WICHITA, Kansas – A petition nearing 6,000 signatures will ask voters to decide in November if marijuana possession should be a criminal offense. But after about five months of work to gather those signatures, the petition could go up in smoke.
The petition seeks to change the punishment for simple possession from up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine to a $25 ticket with no criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of pot.
Easu Freeman spoke Tuesday to the council about the petition. Freeman says the city manager told him after the meeting that there could be an issue with the wording of the petition.
“Maybe he was just trying to be polite and give us a heads up on his personal opinion. I hope it wasn’t a bureaucrat trying to stand in the way of democracy,” Freeman said.
The city manager and legal department declined interview requests, releasing a statement reading in part: “…we can’t provide them legal advice and the petition backers need to seek private legal counsel for questions about the legalities of the petition process. The city will address the petition matter in accordance with the statutory process.”
Once the petition is turned in the election commissioner will have to verify the nearly 6,000 signatures but the city’s law department is warning the group even if the signatures are verified there could still be a court challenge to the petition .
Meanwhile, supporters say the response to the proposal has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’ve been getting hugs from grandmas, I’ve been getting, you know, high fives from police officers,” Freeman said.
Prosecutors warn the bill won’t supersede state and federal law, but organizers insist on moving forward.
“We don’t have the state ballot option in Kansas we can only do cities and towns so the national movement, this is just part of it, our approach in my group is from the issue of the drug war and mass incarceration, said Janice Bradley, board member of Peace and Justice Center in Wichita.
The group will officially submit the petition July 25th. That’s the deadline to turn it in so it can be on this November’s ballot.
Right now, they have roughly twice as many signatures necessary to move forward.
Decriminalization is growing trend across the country. So far, there are 17 states, and the District of Columbia, that have either decriminalized or outright legalized marijuana.