St. Louis prosecutors will stop pursuing low-level cannabis offenses effectively immediately, joining a host of other metropolitan areas across the nation that have decided to spend their law enforcement dollars on serious crimes.
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner sent an email to her staff informing them that her office will review about 1,200 cases currently on the books in which suspects are accused of possessing less than 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cannabis. Most or these arrests will be dismissed, except those with aggravating circumstances, according to Gardner’s email.
“Today, after reviewing our data relating to drug possession cases, I have determined that these cases are hampering our ability to administer justice for the people of the city of St. Louis,” Gardner’s email reads. “Effective immediately we will no longer issue possession of marijuana cases under 100 grams as the lead charge!” Gardner’s email concluded.
Gardner, a Democrat elected in 2016, told the Associated Press that lower-level marijuana crimes make up about 20 percent of the prosecution docket in a city where the murder rate is among the highest in the nation. “This frees up our resources to focus on those more serious cases,” Gardner told The Associated Press. “I think that we need to address how we better utilize our resources.”
St. Louis joins a growing list of other cities that have made similar moves over the years. Last month, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said his office plans to stop prosecuting citizens for marijuana possession, except in for cases involving “demonstrated public safety concerns.” According to Vance, the significant policy change will reduce marijuana prosecutions in Manhattan from roughly 5,000 per year to about 200.
In February, Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner dismissed more than 50 cannabis cases and put law enforcement officials on notice that his office will no longer prosecute low-level marijuana cases.
Gardner’s announcement was applauded by most city officials, but there are those critical of the move. Despite the edict, St. Louis police officers “will continue to enforce the Missouri Controlled Substance Laws as they are written,” according to Schron Jackson, a police department spokeswoman.
Jeff Roorda, the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, also disagreed with Gardner. “We’ve got a name for somebody riding around with 100 grams of marijuana in their car — a drug dealer,” Roorda said.