Pubdate: Thu, 07 Feb 2013
Source: Columbia Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2013 Columbia Missourian
Author: Fedor Zarkhin


JEFFERSON CITY  A bill filed in the House would reduce penalties for
marijuana possession in Missouri, effectively setting the same
penalties statewide as those already in place in Columbia.

Barring certain exceptions, people who are caught with less than 35
grams of marijuana would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor punishable
by a fine of no more than $250. Thirty-five grams is about 1.25 ounces.

The bill  sponsored by Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, and
seven other Democrats  also would allow individuals to expungethe
offense from their record if he or she performs community service and
pays the fine.

Having a misdemeanor for marijuana possession on one's criminal record
leads to many problems, Ellinger said at a news conference Thursday.
Co-sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Columbia attorney Dan
Viets also attended.

Ellinger said those convicted of marijuana crimes can have difficulty
getting jobs.

"It has terrible ramifications for people, and I don't think that
young people should be saddled with that for life," Ellinger said.

Viets, a member of the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws who has been working for years to change marijuana
laws, agreed.

"I see it as a defense attorney, affecting so negatively many people
that are going to have wonderful careers. One minor mistake holds them
up for life," Viets said.

Kelly said current penalties for marijuana possession hurt not only
offenders but also taxpayers. He cited the cost to the criminal
justice system of prosecuting marijuana offenses and the cost to
society of lost productivity.

Kelly, a former associate circuit judge, said penalties for marijuana
use are not an effective deterrent.

"It has been a remarkable failure," he said. "We spend so much money,
and we make no difference in terms of use. And what we do is ruin
hundreds of thousands of people's lives."

Columbia voters passed an ordinance in 2004 instating the same
penalties Ellinger's bill seeks for the entire state.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford. 
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