Advocates for decriminalization turn in petitions

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Organizers have turned in petitions seeking to have a measure to reduce penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana put on Wichita’s November ballot.

Advocates of the measure said they gave the city clerk more than 5,800 signatures on Thursday, well above the 2,928 needed to put the issue to a vote, although they acknowledged some signatures likely were invalid because they came from people who are not Wichita residents or registered voters.

“We didn’t verify every single one, but we’re pretty confident with what we have,” petition organizer Janice Bradley said.

Proponents of the measure support reducing the penalty for possessing marijuana from the current maximum of a year in jail and a $2,500 fine to a $25 fine with no jail time. They also want possession of pot or paraphernalia to be changed from a criminal misdemeanor to a minor civil offense, like a building code violation, The Wichita Eagle reported.

City spokeswoman Lauragail Locke said officials currently have no plans to block the petition and city council member Pete Meitzner agreed.

“I don’t have any feeling that the city, at the council level, wants to be combative or obstructionist about this,” Meitzner said.

He said the council will try to work with petition organizers to clarify some of the ordinance’s language.

Scott Poor, an attorney for the petitioners, said a city lawyer has expressed concern about wording related to civil penalties and medical marijuana. The Sedgwick County counselor’s office approved the language before the signature drive began but it still could be challenged in court, Poor said.

Changing the city code would not legalize marijuana because violations still could be prosecuted under state and federal law. But organizers say it would become less likely that city police would arrest small-time users.

Wichita officers make between 1,800 and 1,900 marijuana arrests a year, according to city records the petitioners obtained through the Kansas Open Records Act.

 

 

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