Wichita, Kansas, To Vote On Marijuana Decriminalization In April


In the fight to end cannabis prohibition, local decriminalization measures can be an effective tool to move the issue forward while improving people’s lives in a local community. Often, statewide reforms aren’t feasible due to cost or politics. A local city or county initiative can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost and a local city council or county commission may just be more responsive to sensible cannabis law reform than a state legislature. Seattle, Washington, passed an influential lowest law enforcement priority measure in 2003 that helped build momentum for further marijuana law reforms and the Evergreen State actually became the first state to enact legal marijuana possession through a popular vote on December 6, 2012*.

In Columbia, Missouri, I was happy to be apart of an effort that ultimately led to the college town decriminalizing up to 35 grams of marijuana with 61% of the vote while allowing medical patients to legally possess 35 grams with 69% of the vote in 2004. Show-Me Cannabis recently successfully lobbied the St. Louis Board of Alderman to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Show-Me Cannabis also helped lead an effort to decriminalize personal amounts of marijuana in Springfield, Missouri, but the Springfield City Council decided to subvert democracy and settle a federal lawsuit for doing so. While statewide reform has been out of the reach of Missouri advocates, local measures have been a way to create momentum for change and the state is now a dark horse candidate to legalize marijuana in 2016.

There are many American cities that are taking a hard look at decriminalizing cannabis possession. Philadelphia and New York City did it last year, and cannabis arrests have dropped 88% and 75% respectively. That has saved a lot of money, and has freed up law enforcement resources so they can be focused towards fighting real crime. Wichita, Kansas, America’s 49th largest city, with over 380,000 residents, is considering a similar move. Per Kansas.com:

The Wichita City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to put the measure on the ballot after backers presented a petition with thousands of signatures supporting it. Council member Pete Meitzner voted no.

The proposal seeks to amend the city code and make a first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine. The conviction would be expunged after 12 months if an offender kept a clean record.

Enforcement would be handled through a summons or citation, similar to a traffic ticket, rather than an arrest. The change would apply only to those 21 or older carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana and/or the paraphernalia to use it.

As a Missouri Tiger, I rarely wish Kansas the best, but I’ll put aside my admitted irrational sports rivalry aside and wholeheartedly support positive change in the Sunflower State. I’m hopeful that this initiative passes for the sake of Wichita residents and the entire state. Kansas is far from a progressive cannabis state, so a victory in its largest city would be a tremendous win for the reform movement there. If you live in Wichita, Kansas, make sure to tell everyone you know to vote for the initiative. All Kansas cannabis law reformers should do all that they can to support the effort because victory can only help build momentum for a statewide victory down the road. I encourage cannabis law reform advocates from across the country to support Kansas for Change and contribute if you can as well, as success in such a conservative state can prove very influential in other conservative locales across the nation.

*Alaska became the first state to legalize personal possession in the home thanks to a state Supreme Court case named Ravin v. State. Coloradans successfully voted to legalize marijuana an hour before Washington thanks to an earlier time zone in 2012 and were the first to initiate regulated cannabis commerce on January 1, 2014, but the state enacted legalized personal possession on December 10, 2012, just four days after Washington State.  

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.