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Fellow sponsors of marijuana bill react to legislator's arrest

Fellow sponsors of marijuana bill react to legislator's arrest

August 27th, 2013 by By Zachary Matson in News

Despite the Sunday arrest for marijuana possession of a Kansas City state representative who had supported legislation to reduce punishments for possession of marijuana, the bill's original sponsor still plans to reintroduce the legislation in the upcoming session.

During the past legislative session, Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, joined Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and five other Democrats, in cosponsoring a bill introduced by Rep. Rory Ellinger that would have lessened the fines for marijuana possession and made it impossible for first-time offenders to be detained or imprisoned.

LaFaver, D-Kansas City, was stopped Sunday evening, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. During the stop, LaFaver was cited for possessing a marijuana pipe and up to 35 grams of marijuana.

Ellinger, D-St. Louis, said Monday that he still intends to file a bill in the upcoming session that would aim to lessen the penalties for marijuana possession.

The previous legislation received a committee hearing but not a vote in the past session. It would have reduced Missouri's penalties for certain offenders possessing marijuana paraphernalia or less than 35 grams of marijuana to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250. Under current law, those charges are misdemeanors that carry a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

"You have to put this (marijuana use) in context of the whole scale of human activity. It is one of the most minor crimes," Ellinger said.

Ellinger said he didn't think the arrest disqualified LaFaver from continuing his work in the Legislature. He pointed out that legislators in the past had been arrested for DUIs and not resigned.

"I don't think a young legislator's life - admitting he made a mistake - should be radically changed negatively by a minor matter," he said. "These are very small offenses that are being alleged."

The Missouri Republican Party has called on LaFaver to resign his seat in the state House.

LaFaver said on Monday he wouldn't comment on the legislation he has previously supported or the impact his arrest could have on a future effort for similar legislation.

"It's not appropriate to use this incident to push for some political agenda that I may have," LaFaver said Monday afternoon. "I am focusing on making my way through the legal system and (on facing) all the consequences prescribed under current law."

Ellinger said that he welcomed other representatives who were interested in supporting the legislation, especially Republicans. He said he's spoken with Republican legislators who had expressed interest in the bill and that the push for decriminalization seemed to get easier each year.

"This is one of the areas where the public is open to change and to looking at this with more compassion," he said.

Kelly, who has also supported decriminalization and medicinal marijuana legislation in the past, said it was too early to comment on the specifics of LaFaver's arrest and any possible impact to legislation.

But he spoke about his past support of marijuana decriminalization and the negative impact of marijuana laws that he observed during his years as a judge.

"The number of dollars and lives wasted overwhelms any benefit that has come from the campaign against marijuana," he said. "I'm having trouble seeing the benefit of the war against marijuana."

LaFaver, 33, issued a statement after his arrest saying he made "a serious mistake" and will accept the consequences. He stressed he was not under the influence while he was driving.

"I want to assure my constituents that I have received no special considerations, nor do I expect to be treated any differently than any other citizen in my situation," LaFaver said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.