Wichita residents will likely get another chance at a ballot initiative to lower the penalty for small-time possession of marijuana.
A new petition drive is being organized by the same people who won a 2015 citywide vote to relax marijuana penalties for violations prosecuted by the city. The initiative never took effect because it was struck down by the state Supreme Court on a technical issue.
Two of the organizers from the original campaign, activists Esau Freeman and Janice Bradley, are taking the lead again. They are scheduled to speak Tuesday at the City Council meeting, where they plan to formally announce the campaign, Freeman said.
The new ordinance will be about the same as the one that was struck down, Freeman said.
It would reduce first-time marijuana possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and cap the fine at $50.
Under current state law, first-time marijuana violators can face as much as a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.
Proponents hope to get the measure on the ballot for the August city election primary.
The upcoming petition drive will be the proponents’ third time circulating a petition to ease up on marijuana violations.
The first, in 2014, fell 47 signatures short of the 2,881 needed to force a citywide vote.
The second time, they got the signatures they needed and city voters approved the initiative 54 percent to 45 percent.
But an error in the filing paperwork – a copy of the proposed new ordinance wasn’t properly attached to the petitions – led the Supreme Court to side with state officials and overturn the local ordinance.
Freeman said the organizers have fixed those problems and tweaked the ordinance slightly to strengthen it in court.
“If we’re challenged again, at least this time the Supreme Court will be able to rule on the merits and not dismiss it on a technicality,” he said.
This time around, proponents will have to collect a lot more signatures – about 10,000, according to Freeman – based on the most recent city election.
But he said he thinks they can do it because the measure has demonstrated public support and the two earlier attempts have taught them how to gather signatures more efficiently.