One Month Until Wichita, Kansas, Votes on Marijuana Decriminalization

   

As I have previously blogged, Wichita, Kansas, will be voting on a marijuana decriminalization measure on April 7th. Local cannabis law reforms can be a great way to move the marijuana movement forward as it is a relatively inexpensive way to educate voters and can be a great tool to publicize the need for reform in conservative states or when statewide efforts are currently too expensive. The modern medical marijuana law reform movement was propelled in many ways by local measures in San Francisco and other cities before Prop 215 was passed by California voters in 2016.

Kansas.com answers some questions about the decrim proposal:

Q. What will the ballot say on April 7?

A. Shall the following be adopted?

An ordinance reducing the penalty for first offense conviction for possession of thirty-two (32) grams or less of cannabis sativa l, otherwise known as marijuana, and/or drug paraphernalia related thereto, by persons twenty-one (21) years of age or older, to an infraction with a fine not to exceed fifty dollars ($50.00).

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Q. What are the current penalties? How do those compare to other crimes?

A. State law says possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia are criminal offenses with up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail, which is a class A misdemeanor, according to state statute. Another offense with the same classification is assault of a police officer.

Wichita successfully decriminalizing this year will have positive repercussions not only across Kansas, but across the Midwest and even the South as more conservative states with local initiative power could be motivated to move forward with sensible reforms. While many cannabis law reform advocates and even many in the general population, feel that legalization is inevitable and the nation is ready for change, marijuana doesn’t legalize or even decriminalize itself. Many advocates have to put in long hours and prohibitionists don’t sit idly by, they will continue to trot out old, debunked Reefer Madness propaganda about marijuana decriminalization leading to an increased number of heroin addicts or even Reefer Madness 2.0 claims about “Big Marijuana” pushing marketing marijuana to children.
The Wichita measure, while a sensible, pragmatic step forward that many see as common sense, certainly isn’t a slam dunk on a special April electoral ballot in Kansas. The very first marijuana law reform measure I worked on was on the ballot in Columbia, Missouri, on April 8, 2003. The Columbia Daily Tribune headline was, “Voters smoke pot proposal,” as a measure that would have decriminalized under 35 grams for all adults and allowed medical patients to legally possess the personal amount garnered around 42% of the vote. The following year, in a November presidential election, decriminalization and medicinal use passed with 61% & 69% respectively as the Tribune’s headline now read, “Marijuana measures pass handily.” While voters attitudes across the nation have improved dramatically since 2003, I am still concerned about the prospects for Wichita’s measure if advocates across the nation aren’t motivated to help.
Voter turnout is the key to the Wichita decriminalization measure. If just the usual voters turnout, the proposal could very well lose. However, if voter turnout is increased and younger voters send in their ballots, then the marijuana movement can achieve an important victory that can have a big impact on people’s lives, especially students in Wichita State who can lose their financial aid because of a misdemeanor conviction or those looking for a job or already on probation or parole. Cannabis community, let’s help these advocates in Wichita, which in turn helps us and other advocates across the country. If you are able, please donate to Kansas for Change and please spread the word.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon’s ca