First time marijuana offenders could face lesser charges in Wichita

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – People caught with marijuana in the city of Wichita could now face less serious penalties if a new ordinance gets final approval tomorrow.

“Potentially, it is not a guarantee,” says Vice Mayor Wichita Janet Miller.

Vice Mayor Janet Miller says for someone caught for the first time with a small amount of pot and has no recent felonies or charges, the penalty could just be $50 and a court appearance, resulting in the possibility of no misdemeanor.

But it’s up to the judge, she says.

“The judge has the discretion to go with this presumptive penalty of a $50 fine, but could decide to do something different, up to and including charging the misdemeanor, finding you guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Miller says the idea is to over-punish someone who needs a second chance.

“For one possession they can end up with so many fines that they can’t pay that they end up in jail, which can cause you to lose your job, or can cause you to lose your license, which can cause you to lose your job.”

But if a sheriff’s deputy makes the stop, even within the city limits of Wichita, expect state law to be enforced, not the city ordinance.

“It is a misdemeanor violation under state law. Our deputies have the discretion as to whether or not they want to arrest in that situation, or seize the evidence and then write up a case to present it to the District Attorney’s for prosecution,” says Lin Dehning of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office.

Defense attorney Dan Monnat while it ultimately is up to the judge — the prosecutor has some discretion in the case

“If the sheriff’s officer brings a state accusation of possession of marijuana to the district attorney, it is perfectly within the district attorneys prosecutorial discretion to say we don’t want to handle that here take that over to the city.”

The ordinance will go into final reading Tuesday morning and will then go into effect on June 16.