Prosecuting Attorney weighs in effort to decriminalize marijuana

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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, wants to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state and give counties the opportunity to decide if marijuana farming should be legal.

Dogan's HB 1095 would make possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. Possession of more than 100 grams would be a class A misdemeanor.

Under current law, possession of more than 35 grams of marijuana is a class D felony. A person can spend up to 7 years in prison with a class D felony. 

Columbia Police Officer's Associate Director said in a statement, "The Columbia Police Officers Association has not taken an official position on this legislation.  We  represent over 150 police officers and, out of a group that large there is always bound to be a split of opinion.  I suspect we have some officers in favor of the legislation and some against."

Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Luntsford said she would prosecute marijuana solely based on what the law states.

"Elements of a crime can change if the legislature determines changing the wording of the statute and you still apply it to the facts," she said. 

She also said the law has been this way since she started practicing."That's a significant change in the amount a person could have," she said. 

Dogan said the decriminalization of marijuana possession would help keep non-violent offenders out of Missouri’s already overpopulated prison system.

Luntsford said even when a person has a class D felony marijuana charge, there are alternatives to prison time. 

"Even if it's a felony, probation is an option or some alternative sentencing courts," she said. 

Dogan said in a statement, “We have seen too many people spend too much time behind bars for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Those prison terms do nothing to keep our communities safer, and instead create a bigger bill for taxpayers." 

Luntsford said in Randolph County, many people are not in prison for marijuana possession. 

"There are other types of controlled substances that play into that that are felonies as well that we see a higher number of felonies," she said. 

According to Luntsford, most people serving a prison sentence for marijuana possession likely violated their probation. 

Something Roberts has heard issues from local K-9 units. He said, in a statement, "I do know there is some concern over how officers who have K-9s will be able to respond to an alert.  The K9s are trained to detect marijuana."

The bill was introduced February 27 and had its second read February 28.