Marijuana Measure Blocked From Local Ballot in Kansas

by | January 22, 2016

By Kelsey Ryan

Wichita's marijuana ballot initiative has been struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court.

The case, which pitted the city against the state, hinged on whether the initiative conflicted with statewide laws prohibiting marijuana possession and whether activists complied with the requirements for ballot initiatives.

The court has decided that petitioners did not follow state law in filing the proposed ordinance with the city clerk.

The court did not address the state's arguments that the proposed ordinance conflicted with statewide marijuana possession laws.

If the city had won, it would have lessened the penalty for possession for first time offenders over 21 with one ounce of marijuana.

The state challenged the initiative after 54 percent of Wichita voters approved it in April.

If the city had won, the City Council would have had to approve changing city ordinance. It would not legalize marijuana possession, but instead make the first offense a criminal infraction with a $50 fine.

Supporters said it would help people who make a one-time mistake not have to pay for the offense for a lifetime, especially when it comes to getting or keeping a job.

The Wichita City Council voted 6-1 in January 2015 to put the measure on the ballot after backers presented a petition with thousands of signatures supporting it. Council members could have adopted the change outright, done nothing or put it on the ballot. Council member Pete Meitzner voted no.

It wasn't the first time supporters tried to get a marijuana issue on the city ballot. In August 2014, petitioners fell 36 signatures short of the required 2,928 needed to put a measure decriminalizing pot on the November ballot.

After that, the City Council directed city legal staff members to help the petitioners redraft the ballot language, resulting in the petition to lessen the penalty for first-time offenders.

State law says possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia are criminal offenses with up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail, which is a Class A misdemeanor, according to state statute. Another offense with the same classification is assault of a police officer.

(c)2016 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)