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Mo. Lawmaker Wants To Lighten First-Time Marijuana Possession Sentences, Expunge Some Records

(via Flickr/Torben Bjorn Hansen)

A St. Louis-area State House member is proposing legislation that would lessen penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in Missouri, and would allow for some misdemeanor criminal records to be expunged.

The first bill would punish first-time possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana or paraphernalia with fines of up to $250.  The sponsor, State Representative Rory Ellinger(D, University City), says it’s modeled after a city ordinance on the books in Columbia.

“Columbia hasn’t fallen into decadent shame or anything by the passing of their bill making (first-time marijuana possession under 35 grams) a misdemeanor,” Ellinger said.

Ellinger also plans to file legislation that would allow past offenders to petition to have their records expunged after five years, provided their offenses were non-violent and non-sexual.

“I can’t tell you the number of times that I have received phone calls as a lawyer from young people graduating from college, saying, ‘I’m ready to start a high school teaching career (and) they tell me I have to get this off my record -- what can I do?’" Ellinger said.  "You cannot do anything.”

Ellinger says his bill would enable past non-violent, non-sexual offenders to get jobs, public assistance, and to generally move on with their lives.  He says he’ll file both proposed bills in the Missouri House next week.

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.