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St. Louis police sergeant sues department for silencing his pro-pot work

St. Louis police sergeant sues department for silencing his pro-pot work

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ST. LOUIS • A city police sergeant who moonlights as a lobbyist for Show-Me Cannabis has filed suit against the department for allegedly stifling his pro-pot politicking.

News that Sgt. Gary Wiegert was registered as a lobbyist for the organization that advocates legalizing marijuana raised eyebrows last week and prompted Police Chief Sam Dotson to denounce Wiegert’s views as his alone and “not what is expected of our officers.”

But it didn’t end there, alleges Wiegert’s attorney, Albert Watkins.

Watkins said Wiegert’s superiors issued a verbal “gag order” Friday, asking him to refrain from any political statements until they could meet to discuss his lobbying. Watkins said that on Tuesday, the department revoked Wiegert’s approval to work a secondary job as a lobbyist.

Dotson would not confirm or deny the account Tuesday, and reissued his earlier statement, adding, “the Department will not comment any further on an ongoing personnel matter that is subject to legal action.”

Officers need approval for a second job. Watkins said Wiegert’s lobbying was endorsed three years ago, when he started working for the St. Louis Tea Party. Wiegert submitted his latest application Feb. 17, referring to “lobbyist activities in Jefferson City” but not specifically listing Show-Me Cannabis.

According to Watkins, while the department approved the application Feb. 25, it now contends that Wiegert needs a business license to continue. The lawyer complained it is a thinly veiled attempt to infringe on his client’s free speech rights.

Watkins filed a lawsuit in federal court here Wednesday seeking a court injunction to prevent officials from quieting Wiegert. The sergeant is a past president of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association; the group says he is no longer a member.

The pro-cannabis movement gained ground in St. Louis earlier this year, when Alderman Shane Cohn introduced a bill that would allow authorities to treat small amounts of marijuana possession as an ordinance violation rather than a misdemeanor.

The proposal would treat these cases much like traffic tickets, with a $100 to $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Currently, possessing up to 35 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Show-Me Cannabis has supported the bill.

“Gary Wiegert is not advocating that anybody break the law,” Watkins emphasized. “He is advocating as a lobbyist for an organization that wants to create a new law ... and that falls soundly within his First Amendment constitutional rights.”

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Jennifer S. Mann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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