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.
Voters in Kansas’ largest city have spoke loud and clear about their views on arresting people with small amounts of marijuana.
Earlier this week, in Wichita, a bill that reduces penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders passed with over 9% support. Now, it is simply a criminal infraction that comes with a $50 ticket.
YES …… 20075 / 54%
NO …… 17091 / 45%
Backers of the bill were very happy with it’s passing. Esau Freeman, Wichita Marijuana Reform, made a great point when discussing the matter.
“Do something about changing these laws on the state level, whether it’s just reducing penalties, going ahead and getting a medical marijuana bill passed.
Something so that we can move forward, and actually regulate these things and not be putting people in a cage for simple possession.”
As expected, Kansas’ Attorney General, Derek Schmidt is not pleased with the passing of the law. Schmidt has repeatedly said he would sue the city if the initiative got passed.
If you’re keeping track, that would be two marijuana related lawsuits the AG is currently fighting.
Organizers of a Wichita petition to reduce penalties for marijuana possession announced they have collected more than enough required signatures to put an initiative on the city election ballot on April 7, 2015.
The push for change is being lead by Esau Freeman, president of the pro-marijuana group Kansas for Change. Freeman said they are planning to submit the signatures to election officials on January 7. It is exciting to see this effort have different results than the attempt before the November general election, which fell just short of the number of required signatures collected. Leading up to the submission of the signatures, the group will be making public presentations at a state legislative forum and City Council meeting. Both of these events will occur on January 6.
The current initiative is not exactly what the group was originally looking to place on the ballot. As a result of compromises made with City Hall, it is notably weaker than the initial bill submitted. “We’re calling it the Marijuana Reform Initiative,” Freeman said. “It’s not decriminalization and no way is it legalization.”
Freeman and co-organizer Janice Bradley, of the Peace and Social Justice Center, feel very confident that they have the signatures they need to get the initiative on the ballot this time around. The first attempt came up 36 signatures short because nearly 3,600 signatures were not accepted due to procedural errors. The most common issue being signatures belonging to non-Wichita residents and unregistered voters.
If passed, first-offense marijuana possession would be a $50 fine. This is quite an improvement from the current penalty of a misdemeanor charge, up to $2,500 fine, and a year in jail. Penalty enforcement would be issued through a citation or summons. Additionally, if the offender keeps a clean record, the conviction would be expunged after one year with no other offenses. The change in law would apply to adults 21 or older with 32 grams or less of marijuana (paraphernalia included).
Freeman continued, “If approved, it would send a message to elected officials that Kansans want more-relaxed marijuana laws.”