Livingston Co. Prosecutor explains decision to no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases

The Livingston County Prosecutor announced that his office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession, impacting how the Chillicothe Police department handles arrests in these cases.

Posted: Aug 20, 2019 6:25 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2019 7:08 PM

(CHILLICOTHE, Mo.) Livingston County Prosecutor Adam Warren announced that his office will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession and plans to dismiss all pending cases regarding the same offense.

The Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 133 which gives a new definition for publicly marketable hemp, which includes seeds, stems, roots, leaf or floral material that contains no more than 3/10 of one percent (.03%).

“There’s an amendment in the law, this year for the hemp law, that makes it basically permissible for all persons to possess hemp, so long as it cannot propagate or grow," Warren said.

Previous story: Livingston Co. Prosecutor will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.

Warren said to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court whether the drug is hemp or marijuana, the substance would have to be sent to a Missouri Highway Patrol crime lab. However, Missouri crime labs do not have the ability to do the test.

“They can tell you if it’s a marijuana plant, a Cannabis plant, or if it has THC, but to tell you whether or not it’s 3/10 or one percent by dry weight is something they cannot do," Warren said.

The bill goes into effect August 28.

"Both marijuana and Hemp are cannabis sativa plants, and once processed are physically indistinguishable. Without scientific methodology, the State would be unable to meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the hemp/marijuana distinction in each misdemeanor possession case."

The Livingston County Prosecuting Attorney plans to continue using outside, private laboratories that can perform that kind of testing in distribution cases, but cites the cost of such testing is too expensive for the agencies enforcing the misdemeanor possession laws.

The changes will also impact how the Chillicothe Police Department handles misdemeanor marijuana possession cases as well. Chief Jon Maples said the department will no longer make arrests in these cases, but that the substance will still be seized and reported.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, it is still illegal to traffic it and we will investigate those cases to their full length," Maples said. 

The Chief added that the department will be looking into ordinances that can help protect individuals, public areas and different neighborhoods from any possible repercussions of not prosecuting the cases.

"I've spoken to my staff about the issues we're going to have because of the non-prosecution of the misdemeanors cases," Maples said. "We're going to have people thinking that this is an out, that they're not going to be in trouble. So, we're going to look at smoking ordinances, age limits in our city for possession of marijuana." 

The policy will stand until the Missouri State Legislature makes changes to the law, or the Missouri Highway Patrol Crime Lab can handle the many thousands of requests for determination and distinguishing between statutory marijuana and statutory hemp that this new hemp law requires.

Warren will request the Chillicothe City Council to ban hemp and marijuana from schools, parks, and other public spaces. He is also finalizing a no-refusal policy to offset any upticks in impaired driving cases. 

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