Kansas City voters recently approved a measure to reduce penalties in city court for marijuana possession.
Voters in Kansas City overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure last week to decriminalize and reduce the city’s penalties for marijuana possession. Question 5, approved by nearly 75 percent of voters, eliminates jail time and lowers the fine for those caught in possession of up to 35 grams from $500 to $25. The measure also eliminates city charges for possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia.
“We could not be more excited about the positive impact passing Question 5 will bring to the communities of Kansas City. We fought long and hard for this result and could not have done it without the support of our volunteers,” said Jamie Kacz, Executive Director of KC NORML, the group behind the measure. “The era of reefer madness in Kansas City has come to an end and no longer will otherwise law abiding citizens be targeted or arrested for the mere possession of marijuana.”
Under Missouri law, possession of up to 10 grams of cannabis is a misdemeanor, though earlier this year the state eliminated jail time for first-time offenders. Possession of more than 35 grams is a felony. Kansas City joins St. Louis and Columbia as Missouri cities that have reduced fines and penalties for possession. The new law took effect Wednesday, April 5.
“The passage of this initiative is not just a victory for the people of Kansas City, but for the democratic process,” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s Executive Director. “When concerned citizens stand up, stand together, and fight back against unjust laws, we will win. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to end our nation’s war on marijuana consumers and politicians across the country should take heed of the message voters sent in Missouri: if you don’t reform our marijuana laws through the legislature, we the people will do it for you.”
Some opponents to the measure favor decriminalization but are concerned that without jail included as a potential punishment, defendants won’t qualify for a free defense attorney through Legal Aid of Western Missouri. About 59 percent of city court marijuana possession cases utilize lawyers through Legal Aid. NORML is working to create a network of attorneys willing to work for a reduced free. Kacz believes the city will find a way to solve the problem.
“It’s within the power of the city to [arrange for Legal Aid to represent the defendants anyway],” Kacz told The Kansas City Star. “They should go ahead.”
Missouri has yet to pass a comprehensive medical marijuana law, although Kansas City NORML is currently working with New Approach Missouri to gather 170,000 petition signatures to put a statewide measure on the ballot in November 2018. So far, 28 U.S. states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws. Missouri is one of the states we believe could legalize medical marijuana next. A July 2016 Public Policy Polling survey found 62 percent of Missouri voters to favor medical marijuana.