Kansas City, Mo residents will vote on decriminalizing marijuana in its April 4 election and on April 11, a Wichita group will be at many of the polls gathering signatures to force a second vote on marijuana sentencing reform.

Kansas City voters will decide this April on a municipal ordinance to decriminalize marijuana possession offenses.

The local initiative, spearheaded by Kansas City NORML, would amend citywide penalties for the possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation, punishable by a $25 fine.

Council members voted 12 to 1 last week to place the issue before voters on the Tues., April 4 ballot. Kansas City NORML members gathered over 2,000 signatures from registered voters to force the forthcoming pubic vote.

The question on the ballot will read:

Shall the City of Kansas City limit the authorized punishment that can be imposed in the Municipal Court for the possession or control of 35 grams or less of marijuana to a maximum $25 fine, eliminate jail as a potential punishment for the possession or control of marijuana, and remove marijuana from the prohibition against drug paraphernalia?

Similar municipal measures are currently in place in St. Louis and in Columbia, Missouri.

Under a newly enacted Missouri law, first-time offenders who possess ten grams of marijuana or less face a criminal record and a $500 fine, but no jail time. Those defendants convicted of possessing greater quantities of cannabis (up to 35 grams), or who are subsequent offenders, face up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

In April 2015, Wichita residents passed a measure (54% to 46%) similar to Kansas City’s to reform the sentences for possession of minor amounts of marijuana and marijuana related paraphernalia. The measure made a first time marijuana possession charge punishable by a $50 fine and no recorded offense. The day after the measure passed, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed an injunction to prohibit its implementation. 

Schmidt found fault with the measure, because he says Kansas law prohibits cities in Kansas from adopting ordinances in conflict with state law. The City contended it has a right to adopt penalties less than those set by the state, especially when the state law sets a maximum penalty, (i.e. up to a maximum fine $1000 and/or 12 months in jail), and not a minimum one. Instead of ruling on the city’s rights to adopt the measure, the court instead ruled on a technicality in how the petition was written and totally avoided the primary question.

So the petition group is back. Sedgwick County Legal Office has reviewed their petition and the group is confident they have wording that can withstand the technical/legal muster. If the measure ends up back in court, they’re prepared to force the court to rule on the city’s ability to implement a lesser penalty.

“This has been a long battle,” said Janice Bradley, with MRI-ICT, the group behind the ballot initiative.

“However we ask that Wichita citizens, especially those who went to the polls and voted for the measure in 2015, to stick with us to the end. We’re making a way for not only Wichitans, but all citizens of Kansas to be able to move beyond these overreaching penalties for a non-violent act.”

The new petition differs slightly from the first, but the basics remain the same. “For possession of 32 grams or less of cannabis sativa L., or otherwise known as marijuana, as defined … the sentence shall be a fine not to exceed $50 and no incarceration, probation, nor any other punitive or rehabilitative measure shall be imposed.

On April 11, MRI-ICT volunteers will be at some of Sedgwick County polling locations collecting signatures on their petition. This time, they need 10,000 signatures instead of 3000. But they’re optimistic they’ll have the signatures they need no later than August, with a goal of having the issue on the November 2017 ballot.

If you’re interested in participating or supporting their effort, reach out to them on Facebook at Kansas for Change or MRI-ICT.

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