A proposal to reduce penalties for first-time marijuana possession has been deferred for two weeks by the Wichita City Council as the city explores whether it can be made more lenient for violators than originally suggested.
The proposed ordinance would fulfill part of what city voters tried to do through the initiative process two years ago when they voted to cut the penalty for pot possession to $50.
The state Supreme Court overturned that initiative on a technicality related to the signature-gathering process that put it on the ballot. Proponents are now collecting signatures to try to put it on the ballot again, but have said they will drop that effort if the council adopts a suitable ordinance relaxing penalties.
The ordinance considered Tuesday creates a presumptive fine of $50 for adults’ first-time marijuana or paraphernalia conviction. Prosecution presumably would take place through a citation if there are no other circumstances to justify an arrest and immediate incarceration.
The ordinance can’t legally supplant state law, which allows a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Instead, it would function as guidance for the city’s Police Department and Municipal Court in handling individuals’ cases, said City Attorney Jennifer Magana.
“Cities can adopt ordinances that are stricter, but cities cannot adopt ordinances that are less stringent than state law,” Magana said.
Leaders of the marijuana petition drive told the council they appreciate the effort, but would like to see some tweaks before the ordinance is finalized. They’re concerned that the regular state penalties would be applied to anyone with a felony conviction in the previous 10 years or a misdemeanor or marijuana conviction in the previous five years.
“I have to say I’m pleased and slightly disappointed,” said Esau Freeman. “I kind of feel like a kid on Christmas who asked for a bright green 10-speed bicycle and being given a pink tricycle. And I think that’s the way a lot of our citizens will feel about this.”
That comment didn’t sit well with Mayor Jeff Longwell.
“I’ll just simply say, we’re not trying to legalize marijuana in Wichita, Kansas. That’s not the direction we’re going,” he said. He added that police and the city attorney’s office had worked hard on drafting the ordinance.
“So I guess I’m partially a little disappointed that some of the groups that we’ve been working with have the feeling that we’re not moving in the right direction, that you opened your Christmas gift and now you’re tremendously disappointed,” Longwell said. “Because what we’re doing here today is really stepping out of the box. And it’s not about just working with one sector or one group, it’s working with the entire community.”
But council members Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams made the case that the city might be able to go farther in easing up on marijunana punishment without harming the community and they wanted more time to look at those options.
Williams said she’d like to see the effort spent on marijuana transferred to more dangerous drugs.
“I think in a sense it’s time to end the war we have on marijuana, because we also need to be looking at the war we will continue and will be having with opioids and heroin,” Williams said. “Because I think we’re going to get in trouble as the rest of the country is. It just has not reached Kansas yet.”
Source: 420 Intel – United States