KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Jackson County Prosecutor's Office says they will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases, with some exceptions.
This comes as voters in Missouri last week supported a Constitutional Amendment to legalize medical use of marijuana.
“Voters were discerning in considering the issue,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Baker said.
They rejected two lesser proposals, she noted, but voted in convincing numbers in support of one measure, Constitutional Amendment 2, on the Nov. 6 ballot.
In Jackson County on Nov. 6, 2018, Amendment 2 won even stronger support, with three of four Jackson County voters in favor. Across the state, the amendment passed with 66 percent of voters’ approval. Missouri follows 30-plus other states in some form of legalization of marijuana.
Baker said that mandate from voters is directing this shift in their office.
“This changing attitude toward marijuana is something we have been seeing anecdotally from our juries for some time," Baker said.
Exceptions to Jackson County’s new policy on prosecution of marijuana possession will be cases in which facts show the person is selling or distributing the drug without proper authority. For example, the office will still evaluate for prosecution cases where the offender is found to be in possession of items that are routinely associated with the illegal sale or distribution of marijuana, such as individually packaged bags of the drug, a scale or large of cash or firearms.
"They're going to be looking for things like paraphernalia, baggies, scales, firearms that would show an intent to distribute marijuana in large sums," said Tracy Spradlin, an attorney at Spradlin Kennedy Law. "The other thing they`re really going to focus on is child endangerment."
The prosecutor’s office will continue to prosecute cases in which the possession of marijuana results in drugged driving or where possession of marijuana results in harm to a child.
Fran Stanton is a cannabis proponent and said she's happy to hear the Jackson County decision.
"It's gonna give our law enforcement more important things to do," Stanton said. "To not have to mess around with arresting people for possession is a great thing for our county and our city."
Baker also announced that her office will undertake two public safety awareness campaigns in Jackson County.
The first will warn caregivers to keep packaged edible marijuana away from children as some states have seen increased incidents of children ingesting marijuana, otherwise they may face prosecution.
The second will focus on “drugged driving,” stressing that marijuana users cannot drive under the influence – that remains illegal.
“Voters spoke very clearly and overwhelmingly,” Baker stated. “But we need to keep the drug – like any drug – away from the kids, and driving while high is a serious crime that puts us all at risk.”
The prosecutor's office also noted that the actions of the Jackson County’s Prosecutor’s Office have no impact on federal policy, which makes possession of marijuana a crime.
"Pot is still illegal," Spradlin said. "It can still be charged as a city ticket. It can still be impacting on federal cases. It means that Jackson county isn't going to charge for simple possession."
For Spradlin, the new decision about prosecution brings up several questions, like what will happen to the cases that are currently charged.
"It will also be interesting to see how roadside investigations when cars are pulled over, what their new standard is going to be for search warrants," Spradlin said.
The Blue Springs Police Department said Tuesday they will not be making changes in the near future and released the following statement:
"We will still handle these cases in municipal court, and it is still a federal violation. We will be working closely with our municipal prosecutor once a new permanent prosecutor is selected but I foresee no changes on our end."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol said their job is to enforce the Missouri State Criminal and Traffic Statutes and they will continue to work with local prosecutors during this process.
The Lee's Summit Police Department said they will evaluate the current federal, state and local laws regarding marijuana and work with their legal team to determine the appropriate course of action prior to the new law going into effect later this year.