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Marijuana

ST. LOUIS • The fine for getting caught with a small amount of marijuana has been reduced from a range of $100 to $500 to a maximum of $25 under a new city ordinance.

"For a lot of families in the city of St. Louis, $100 or $500, you might as well ask them for a million dollars," Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who sponsored the legislation, told the Post-Dispatch.

It passed the St. Louis Board of Aldermen last month 24-0.

Decriminalizing marijuana even further was a topic of debate once again during the board's session, but of two dueling marijuana bills, only Reed's more conservative proposal, slashing the amount users could be fined, made it across the finish line.

The Board of Aldermen has only one meeting left in the session, meaning bills that haven't been voted out of their assigned committees won't be able to be passed this time around, including a second marijuana bill sponsored by 15th Ward Alderman Megan Green.

Her proposal would have stopped enforcement of any laws that permit “the civil or criminal punishment for the use or possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia against any individual or entity,” except under certain circumstances.

Essentially, the measure would allow marijuana to be used, grown and sold in St. Louis, something Green argues would allow St. Louis Police to focus on violent, more serious crime at a time when police resources are limited and the city's murder rate surpassed 200 last year.

Green has vowed to reintroduce her marijuana bill at the start of next session, which begins in April. 

The bill will be similar to the original, with one component removed, she said: a provision making it illegal to refuse to hire or terminate someone for legally using marijuana under the parameters of the ordinance, during non-working hours.

That component had prompted some concerns that the proposal would prohibit private employers from requiring drug tests.

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"But the spirit of the bill will be the same," Green said.

Green and Reed are both running to be the next president of the Board of Aldermen, a position Reed has held for three consecutive terms.

The board returns for its final meeting of the 2017-2018 session on April 16. The new session begins the next day. 

In 2013, city aldermen overwhelmingly voted to make the fine for using the drug comparable to the amount of a traffic ticket, in the hopes of helping offenders avoid the heavier costs associated with state court.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch political reporter.