City votes on lower marijuana penalties ordinance

Marijuana (AP Photo/Jim Mone,File)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita voters showed their support for reducing marijuana possession penalties, and now the city is taking action.

Tuesday morning, the Wichita City Council voted 6-0 to approve a modified ordinance.

The ordinance was originally brought up at City Council on May 2, but it was differed to allow time for input from community voices.

The ordinance City Council will vote on Tuesday makes four changes:

First, it adjusts the maximum penalty from $2,500 to $1,000 to reflect state law for first time marijuana possession.

The proposed ordinance also implements a $400 lab fee for cases headed to trial requiring testing done on a substance.

City voters also voted to reclassify the criminal conviction from a misdemeanor to an infraction for first time possession of marijuana. The proposed ordinance doesn’t decriminalize marijuana, according to city leaders, but instead creates a presumptive penalty of $50 for cases meeting certain criteria. The presumptive penalty would apply to those who have not had a felony conviction in the last five years, who have not had a conviction of marijuana in the last three years, or have had any misdemeanor convictions in the last three years.

Finally, it codifies the practice of Wichita police in not arresting and booking every person charged with possession of marijuana.

The intent behind the ordinance is to allow people under certain conditions to continue with employment and education.

“There is a case to be made that high fines don’t prohibit or reduce use but do cause financial hardships that escalate into individuals losing their driver’s licenses, then jobs, then housing, etc. These individuals often enter a cycle of poverty they can’t work themselves out of and eventually become a cost to other taxpayers,” said Vice Mayor Janet Miller, in an emailed statement.

The city could see a loss of $20,000 in revenue, but passing the ordinance could make up for that loss in a different way, according to Miller.

There is a case to be made that high fines don’t stop or reduce marijuana use, but can cause hardships escalating into people falling into a cycle of poverty and eventually becoming a cost to taxpayers, Miller said.

“It’s likely that there will be a greater or equivalent savings in law enforcement expenditures, court costs and jails fees as a result of the new administrative procedures and low presumptive fine,” she said.

The ordinance now goes to a second reading next week before being published and becoming effective on Saturday, June 17.