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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sgt. Gary Wiegert Tries Again To Lobby For Marijuana Reforms; Will St. Louis PD Allow It?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 8:45 AM

click to enlarge Sgt. Gary Wiegert. - VIA
  • via
  • Sgt. Gary Wiegert.

Though the city of St. Louis officially adopted a marijuana reform law this month, one local police sergeant has not been able to publicly lobby for the cause.

Sgt. Gary Wiegert supports policy changes just like the new city ordinance, which moves cops to treat minor offenses like low-level traffic tickets in an effort to save law enforcement resources. But, as we've covered here, he has been stuck in a legal fight with his bosses at the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for months after he alleged in a suit that SLMPD violated his free-speech rights by refusing to let him work on the side as a paid pot lobbyist.

Now, a federal court has ordered Wiegert to re-submit his application to the department to work as a lobbyist for advocacy group Show-Me Cannabis. The order also directs SLMPD to "act with all deliberate speed" in reviewing his request.

See also: - St. Louis Arrests Blacks For Pot Possession 18 Times More Often Than Whites - Major Increase In St. Louis County Pot Arrests Over Last Decade, ACLU Says - Springfield Politicians Again Reject Pot Reform Law, Activists Consider Lawsuit

In other words, the department has to decide whether it approves of one of its sergeants lobbying for marijuana reforms -- or lobbying on the side at all. The order came two weeks ago, and on Friday Wiegert formally submitted his request for secondary employment to the department. Both documents are on view below. Now, he's waiting for a decision from the department.

Before this controversy erupted, Wiegert was supposed to do lobbying work in Jefferson City to push for decriminalization policies at the state level.

Wiegert and his attorneys have argued that the department did initially approve his application to moonlight as a lobbyist, but then revoked it after officials read a Post-Dispatch column that revealed he would be working with a group associated with marijuana advocacy. (Advocates have pointed out that this was an odd move, given that the department and other St. Louis officials have generally supported this reform at the local level.)

click to enlarge VIA

SLMPD officials have repeatedly declined to comment citing pending litigation, but in at least one document, have disputed these claims. Police Chief Sam Dotson, in a March memo to Wiegert, said that he could not approve his application, because he didn't produce a business license issued by the city and failed to include a detailed explanation of his duties beyond "lobbyist activities."

Wiegert's lawyer, however, argues that the license was irrelevant and that this was clearly not the real reason the department was trying to block him. (An SLMPD spokeswoman again declined to comment to Daily RFT this week, referencing department policy to not speak on pending litigation.)

Regardless, it remains unknown whether the department will let him lobby after reviewing this new application. Some in the city say it's a conflict of interest for cops who work for the city to also work as paid lobbyists on the side.

"The department is screwed no matter what they do," Albert Watkins, Wiegert's attorney, tells Daily RFT. "They approved it, then it was retroactively revoked. Now they're going to, what, approve it again? Are they going to approve it again because they are fearful of a lawsuit?"

Continue for more commentary from Albert Watkins and for the full order and application.

Watkins says that if the department rejects his request it is a violation of his First Amendment rights. But if it accepts the request, it is contradicting previous rejections.

click to enlarge Chief Sam Dotson. - VIA
  • via
  • Chief Sam Dotson.

While Wiegert is eager to lobby as he has originally planned, Watkins says, the continued pushback from SLMPD only helps to advance the cause -- by bringing more attention to pot reform.

In a very colorful written statement, Watkins writes:

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has done more to advance the lobbying cause of Show-Me Cannabis than a big bag of Hawaiian bud thrown in the middle of a late night Taco Bell party. Maybe the powers that be at the Department should go out back and burn one during a break, it would certainly be time better spent than objecting to a lobbying cause already embraced by City lawmakers.

He adds to Daily RFT, "It brings attention to the very thing they are seeking to suppress."

Here's the court order followed by a copy of Wiegert's new application to SLMPD.

U.S. District Court - Memo And Order

Sgt. Gary Wiegert, June 7 Request

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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