Wichita City Council members gave first approval to an ordinance lowering the maximum penalty for marijuana possession. The change would bring the city into compliance with a 2016 state law.
Under the amended ordinance, the penalty for first-time marijuana possession is lowered from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction could carry a fine of $1,000 and six months in jail, down from $2500 and a year in jail. A lab fee could also be assessed.
A person caught with a small amount of marijuana -- defined as 32 grams or less -- and who doesn’t have prior felony or other convictions, will receive a $50 fine, but won't be arrested. The "presumptive penalty" only applies if someone is:
- over the age of 21
- has not been convicted of a felony in the previous five years
- has not been convicted of a Class A misdemeanor in the previous three years
- has not been found guilty of more than one prior conviction for misdemeanor marijuana possession in the previous three years, and
- has not been charged with a felony, criminal offense, or DUI related to the same marijuana offense (source: City of Wichita)
A municipal court will determine sentencing. The city says about 80 percent of possession cases are for "a small amount" of marijuana.
Councilwoman Lavonta Williams says the new ordinance is a first step.
“Many, many lives have already been ruined for just small amounts of marijuana, and in many cases it has shown people the inside of a prison that it should not have happened," she said. "And so we’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go.”
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