In a victory for anyone who's ever had to walk around holding a cup of their own warm piss in their hands just for the pleasure of being gainfully employed, the St. Louis County Council voted this week to end marijuana screening for most county employees.
The bill, sponsored by 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, a Democrat, passed in a 4-3 vote along party lines. Its exceptions include public works and transportation workers who operate heavy machinery or vehicles, police officers and those required to be tested by federal law.
“No person currently employed by St. Louis County or applying for employment by St. Louis County shall be required to undergo pre-employment or random drug testing for the presence of marijuana metabolites (THC) as a condition or part of employment,” the bill states.
Democrats Kelli Dunaway, Shalonda Webb and Rita Days all joined Clancy in voting in favor of the measure, while Republicans Ernie Trakas, Tim Fitch and Mark Harder voted against. According to a spokesman, County Executive Sam Page will sign the bill into law, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“People who legally use marijuana for medical purposes shouldn't be discriminated against AND this policy will remove a barrier to recruitment and hiring,” Clancy wrote on Twitter after the measure’s passage. “That's why I sponsored and passed this bill.”
“We applaud the STL County Council on the passage of a bill that would end marijuana testing for prospective county employees excepting law enforcement, federal contractors, or other 'safety-sensitive' positions,” Missouri cannabis trade group MoCannTrade wrote in a statement.
The new measure is just the latest in an ongoing string of legislation relaxing laws related to cannabis in the St. Louis area. Since medical marijuana was legalized by Missouri voters through a ballot initiative in 2018, St. Louis City and County announced in 2018 and 2019, respectively, that they'd no longer prosecute people who are in possession of 100 grams of weed or less. Then, in 2021, each moved to fully decriminalize small amounts of the plant; in the case of St. Louis City, the measure was passed unanimously by the Board of Aldermen.
"Part of it was the evolution of the state law, and they realized the the sky wasn't falling," Alderman Bret Narayan, who introduced the bill, told RFT at the time of its passing.
And further state-wide legalization may be on the horizon. Just last month, Missouri State Rep. Ron Hicks (R) introduced a bill that would permit the taxation and regulation of adult-use marijuana in the state. The wide-ranging legislation would allow cannabis businesses to claim tax deductions, permit social consumption facilities and provide opportunities for expungements of prior cannabis-related offenses.
The bill as introduced doesn't have a possession limit, and would allow adults to cultivate up to twelve plants for personal use. Further, it would prevent law enforcement from using the smell of weed alone as justification for a warrantless search, and cannabis use could not be used "as a factor in family court proceedings."
Meanwhile another lawmaker, Rep. Shamed Dogan (R), is working to get a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2022 ballot. His plan would allow anyone 21 or older to purchase, cultivate and possess cannabis for personal use, without specifics in regard to acceptable amounts. He introduced similar legislation last year, but it did not advance.
Activist groups, also, are pushing forward with their own ballot measures. New Approach Missouri, which was responsible for the initiative that legalized medical marijuana in the state in 2018, has already begun gathering signatures through its new campaign committee, Legal Missouri 2022.
That group initially attempted to put recreational legalization before voters in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic hampered its efforts. Despite the challenges created by the health crisis, the group was able to raise approximately 80,000 signatures in support, though that was far short of the 160,199 required.
And yet another group, Fair Access Missouri, is working on its own citizen initiatives in the hopes that one will make it on the ballot in November. Three of the proposals they are considering aim for recreational legalization, while the fourth would bring amendments to the medical marijuana program that is already in place.
It’s a crowded field of proposals, but they all point to one obvious conclusion: Missouri citizens and legislators alike are steadily warming up to the prospect of relaxed cannabis laws, one step at a time.