Wichita defers vote on ordinance lessening marijuana penalties

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) UPDATE: The Wichita City Council has deferred action on this ordinance. Council members said Tuesday morning that they wanted to get more details on the idea before moving forward with a vote.

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Wichita City Council meets Tuesday to lessen fines for people in possession of marijuana.

City Council will place the ordinance dropping the maximum fine of $2,500 down to the state-accepted $1,000 and also suggest a $50 presumptive penalty for first time offenders under certain circumstances.

“The people are in a different position than they previously thought they were,” said Esau Freeman, president of the Wichita Marijuana Reform Initiative.

Although Freeman says the directive from the city is a step in the right direction, it’s the finer details of the ordinance that concern him.

“If you’ve been caught for a crime and you’ve paid your time, then you’ve paid your time,” he said. “You don’t need to have a second sentence over your head.”

The ordinance does four things: fixes fines to match the state’s level, adds a presumptive penalty for first time offenders, assesses lab fees from the KBI at $400 – but only if testing is done on the substance – and adjusts city policy to match a Wichita Police policy.

Freeman thinks it should include second offenders as well, to match what people in the city voted for.

In April of 2015, voters in Wichita approved an ordinance to change the penalties of marijuana possession from $2,500 to $50, but the Kansas Supreme Court held that the ordinance failed to follow legal requirements.

“There’s been a war on marijuana for the past 70 years,” said Freeman. “”We think it’s no more harmful than somebody taking home a 6 pack of beer.”

Kansas Legislature in 2016 reduced penalties for first convictions for possession of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor.

Previously, under a Class A misdemeanor, the penalty for possession of marijuana in any amount was a maximum $2,500 fine and one year in jail.

City Council says its intent is to enact an ordinance that reflects state law, but some people don’t want to see any changes in penalties for marijuana users.

“It’s a stupid idea,” said Archie Archiwal, a Wichita resident. “You’re going to destroy our kids’ future.”

Archiwal allong with a few others Eyewitness News spoke to Monday think restrictions should be higher.

“If there’s no charges on it, there’s no scare and they’re going to do it again and again,” said Archiwal.

“I think it needs to stay just what it is, as a matter of fact, I think it should be higher,” said Jimmy Guinn, another Wichita resident.

The new ordinance will make the penalty for a first time conviction of possession of marijuana of any amount is reduced to a maximum of $1,000 and six months in jail.

The ordinance will also establish a presumption that the appropriate fine for people 21 years and older who have no previous Class A misdemeanors and have less than 32 grams of weed on them only receive a $50 fine.

The presumption also suggests that the person won’t be incarcerated or be required to complete counseling.

The agenda says that passing the ordinance will result in approximately $20,000 loss of revenue for the city of Wichita because of the fine reduction.

Although the ordinance suggests these changes to the city of Wichita, fine maximums are determined by the state and the municipal court can still choose to fine someone the max of $1,000.

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