WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The Wichita City Council on Tuesday said is could soon vote to change the law for first-time pot possession.
“There was a lot of moving parts to this decision,” said Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay. “And I am supportive of what was brought forward today.”
Council members are considering moving forward an amended ordinance. The change, as written by the city legal team, would drop the maximum fine for first-time pot possession from $2,500 to just $1,000. And, the presumptive fine would begin at just $50.
“Now, I’ll just simply say, we’re not trying to legalize marijuana in Wichita, Kansas,” said Mayor Jeff Longwell. “That’s not the direction we’re going. And if we were to, for example, allow anyone to take diversion at no cost you are basically legalizing marijuana, and I don’t believe that’s the intent.”
But, some city council members said the cost for some with first-time pot possession can be a burden.
“Some people believe it shouldn’t be a crime at all, so that’s one issue,” says council member Janet Miller. “Then there are those who believe it is a crime, but the penalties are not fitting the crime. Some times we end up charging people really significant fines and fees, people can’t pay. And sometimes people lose their driver’s license, and they lose their job.”
Miller says she is not advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“The chief (of police) and council, we are not going there,” said Miller. “I don’t know anybody on council who is wanting to decriminalize marijuana. But, I think the fees and fines that are being charged are too high and that this ordinance is a step in the direction of enacting or codifying a presumptive fee of something much lower.”
Miller says the proposed changes would also bring the city into compliance with state statute, where maximum fines for first-time possession have changed.
“Part of this ordinance will adopt state statute, yes. When we adopt an ordinance, it will bring us into compliance with the state statute,” says Council Member Janet Miller. “And adopt the maximum penalties, which the state statute has recently lowered. So right now, we are out of compliance. We need to adopt the new statute.”
The city ordinance applies to anyone over the age of 21. And, the fees would go up for second time offenders, or those convicted of a felony.
The city legal team will continue to communicate with council members and answer questions they have, but the council could vote in two weeks.