The following piece was written by a friend of The Garrett Firm, Nick Dudley, an accomplished criminal defense attorney in Blue Springs Missouri. Nick's blog is available at DudleyDefense.com.
Missouri's criminal code is currently being overhauled. The changes go into effect in 2017, but the revisions have passed and are available for viewing.
New Marijuana Possession Laws
One notable change concerns marijuana possession. Currently, Possession of Marijuana is a Class C felony (up to 7 years in prison) or a Class A misdemeanor if there is less than 35 grams (up to one year).
The new revisions reflect changing attitudes about marijuana, though, in my opinion, nothing short of legalization will go far enough.
The new law will punish over 35 grams of marijuana as a Class D felony (New Class D's will be punishable by up to 7 years), between 10 and 35 grams as a Class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year), and less than 10 grams as a Class D misdemeanor (this is an entirely new penalty, punishable by up to a $500 fine).
However, multiple offenses for Possession Under 10 grams, can result in the case being charged as a Class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year).
It will be interesting to see how local prosecutors begin handling open possession cases since the new law does not go into effect until 2017.
Critically important Paraphernalia changes
Perhaps more importantly, Drug Paraphernalia is being moved from a Class D felony (up to 4 years) to a Class D misdemeanor (up to $500 fine - NO Jail). Multiple offenders can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
This is a critically important change because virtually every item in existence is paraphernalia for some type of drug use: lightbulbs, silverware, sandwich bags, tobacco accessories, scales, socks, whipped cream, and hundreds of others. See my friend Josh Garrett's post on the subject for more.
Additionally, a common trend I've observed is that counties will arrest a person on a paraphernalia charge and also seize drugs. The person will spend a day or two in jail awaiting aa first appearance. At the first appearance, the State will offer the defendant a misdemeanor plea deal on the paraphernalia charge, which he/she gladly accepts to get out of jail. Over a year later (I've seen as late as two years), the State will file NEW charges out of the same arrest for Class C felony possession. The explanation is that the drug has been "at the lab" for the last year, but it seems to be a convenient way to turn 1 year of probation into 3. Or more insidiously, to use the first guilty plea as a way to shore up evidence in the possession charge.
It is quite a shock to people to find out a year or later that they are charged with possession. I've represented at least 2 people on possession charges who have actually completed their probation on the paraphernalia charge and had no idea that there was a warrant for their arrest until they were handcuffed during a traffic stop.
For those wondering, the statute of limitations for felony (non-murder/rape) charges in Missouri is 3 years. Misdemeanors have a 1-year statute of limitations.
You can read the proposed changes here, and a summary of some of the most important changes here. The new criminal code has passed, but even so, is still being revised. It is not set to go into effect until 2017.
The new possession and paraphernalia laws are a step in the right direction, but they do not go far enough. If you believe that marijuana should be legalized, or if you are interested in some of the unintended consequences of the drug war, you should visit Americans for Forfeiture Reform and Show Me Cannabis.
If you have been arrested and/or charged with a crime in Branson, Nixa, Ozark, Springfield, Greene County, Webster County, Christian County, Taney County, Stone County, or anywhere in the surrounding area of Southwest Missouri, please schedule a free consultation today by calling (417) 221-4113 or by clicking "Contact Us" above.