Which Side is He On

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July 16, 2013

When St. Louis police officer Sergeant Gary Wiegert is on duty, he doesn’t play around with marijuana violations. When he is off duty, Wiegert is a lobbyist for the organization Show-Me Cannabis, an advocate of marijuana law reform. But because everyone wasn’t happy about him having this second job, he had to fight to keep the position. Wiegert believes that arresting marijuana offenders takes up too much time and is not cost-efficient. He thinks that police should give tickets for marijuana offenses.

What Is Show-Me Cannabis?

Show-Me Cannabis doesn’t necessarily support marijuana use. It just wants the law to have a better handle on marijuana offenses and to treat them as ordinance violations. The organization believes that possession of a small amount of marijuana should incur a fine of $100-$500. If jail time is appropriate, the person should serve a maximum of three months. Currently, marijuana offenses are seen as misdemeanors. The fine can go up to $1,000 and jail time could be a year.

Taking a Stand

In St. Louis, if a police officer wants a second job, he or she has to submit an application to the department. Wiegert asked to work as a lobbyist, but didn’t specify that it was for Show-Me Cannabis. The department approved, but then changed its mind, saying that Wiegert needed a business license to lobby for the organization. However, Wiegert believed it wasn’t about a business license. He claimed the department was  against him supporting the cause, that it was inappropriate for him to be a part of it. Allegedly, Wiegert’s superiors told him that they needed to discuss the situation. Until then, they told him he had to stay quiet about his political beliefs. In March, the police department said that Wiegert wasn’t allowed to be on the side of Show-Me Cannabis. Wiegert filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court. He said that preventing him from working with Show-Me Cannabis was against his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

A federal court told Wiegert to submit another application to the police department. The court also ordered the department to not waste any time in reviewing his application.

Getting Somewhere

Three months after the legal battle began, Wiegert won his case. The police chief sent Wiegert a letter of approval to lobby for Show-Me Cannabis. The chief said that the lobbying would be OK as long as Wiegert is off-duty and not in uniform. Also, Wiegert couldn’t make it seem like he’s representing the views of the police department. Even if Show-Me Cannabis initiates gentler punishment laws for marijuana offenses, the change isn’t meant to de-emphasize pot’s harmful effects. Don’t believe that it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be because the law is less severe.

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