Legislative bill could keep second time pot offenders out of jail

TOPEKA (KSNT) –  State officials say the state’s prisons and jails are running out of room and will hit full capacity by the end of this year. So a panel of lawmakers listened to one idea to ease that crowding, one that would leave some marijuana offenders seeing less jail time.

“One of the things we are trying to do is keep the bad guys or the violent people where they are supposed to be and what do we do with those other folks, is the big question,” says Scott Schultz, Exec. Dir., KS Sentencing Commission.

The bill would change state law to make pot possession a felony only after a third conviction, instead of the second time you’re busted.

The driving force behind this proposed bill is to free up beds in local jails like the one behind me and save counties money.

More than 400 second time marijuana offenders went to jail last year…”We take all of those out of the felony system if we actually reduce this,” says Schultz.

And because those people would no longer be in jail, the state would no longer have to pay nearly $800,000 in substance abuse programs. But the committee was told there’s also an “equal justice” factor to consider.

“You can break into a person’s house when they’re not home, commit a residential burglary, when they not home and get a max of 34 months. You can have a small amount of marijuana in your pocket and you look at 37-42,” says Jennifer Roth/Kansas Assoc. Of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

No one spoke against the proposal at today’s hearing. The house committee which heard the testimony today is expected to vote on whether to move it to the full house on Monday.

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