ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Dec. 27, 2021) – Earlier this month, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed an ordinance into law decriminalizing possession and cultivation of marijuana despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition.
Alderman Bret Narayan (D) introduced Bill 132 and the St. Louis Board of Alderman unanimously passed the ordinance in November. Under the new law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana will no longer be subject to civil penalties. The ordinance also prohibits local police from enforcing state and federal laws against the possession of small amounts of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia with a few exceptions. Additionally, Bill 132 prohibits the use of city resources to prosecute cases involving the home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants. Under the new law, police can no longer use the odor of marijuana as justification for a warrantless search.
“This bill basically just harmonizes our local ordinance with the state’s constitution, as well as further decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana,” Narayan said before the board vote. “It has the buy-in from the public safety director, it has the buy-in from the director of personnel. We’ve talked to basically every stakeholder along the way.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The decriminalization of marijuana in St. Louis removes a layer of enforcement relating to the possession and use of marijuana in the city even though federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states and localities stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action.
Numerous local jurisdictions have decriminalized marijuana or simply deprioritized enforcing cannabis laws.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.
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