During the most recent Wichita City Council meeting, it was announced that local police have deescalated their enforcement of marijuana possession. Most people found in possession of cannabis would receive a summons to appear in court, rather than be subject to an arrest.
The local police may be taking a cue from Wichita voters, who approved a referendum in April 2015. That referendum was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court, who found that the petitions gathered for the referendum were done so illegally.
Despite that setback, the city council has been attempting to pass a marijuana ordinance on their own. The ordinance would involve a fine of up to $1000, but anyone caught with 32 grams of cannabis or less would receive a suggested fine of $50. The ordinance would allow the court to decide on the amount of fines on a case-by-case basis. Jail time for possession would be a maximum of six months.
Cannabis advocates are looking forward to genuine reform, and the ordinance could be the first step. “There’s been a war on marijuana for the past 70 years,” said Esau Freeman, president of the Wichita Marijuana Reform Initiative. “We think it’s no more harmful than somebody taking home a 6 pack of beer.” Unfortunately, city council voted to delay the vote on the ordinance.
In 2016, the state legislature updated marijuana possession penalties for first time offenders from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor. Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City, has been pushing a bill modeled after Colorado’s medical marijuana program, with hopes that it could help the state’s budget crisis.
Support for medical marijuana is stronger than ever, and politicians are discovering it for themselves. “The one thing I found out while I was knocking on doors was that people were interested in the use of medical marijuana,” said Senator Randall Hardy (R- Salina). “The medical marijuana provided some relief to children with seizures.” Hardy’s constituents may be referring to research on marijuana’s ability to treat epilepsy.
But some residents still have antiquated positions on cannabis.
“It’s a stupid idea,” said Wichita resident Archie Archiwal regarding the ordinance. “You’re going to destroy our kids’ future.”
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell commented that the city council is drafting the ordinance with care, but for now, the vote will be delayed.