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.”