The Wichita City Council could vote as early as Tuesday on whether to put a question on the April 7 ballot that lessens the penalty for first time possession of marijuana.
Earlier this month, Esau Freeman, organizer for the Marijuana Reform Initiative, delivered a 689 page, 6-inch-thick petition to officials with the signatures of thousands of supporters.
The petition contained signatures of at least 3,000 qualified voters and an additional 129 pages that were not reviewed, according to the certification letter sent to the city from Tabitha Lehman, the Sedgwick County elections commissioner.
“We’re glad that the numbers have matched, and we were certain that they would,” Freeman said.
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“We’re just hopeful the City Council considers adopting it themselves. Should they choose not to, then we look forward to the vote on April 7.”
With the petition certified, the City Council will now have to decide whether to adopt the proposal as written or put it to a citywide vote.
The proposal seeks to amend the city code and make a first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine instead of a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $2,500 and a year in jail. The conviction would be expunged after 12 months if an offender keeps a clean record.
Enforcement would be handled through a summons or citation, similar to a traffic ticket, rather than an arrest. The change would apply only to those 21 or older carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana and/or the paraphernalia to use it.
This isn’t the first push to get the marijuana question in front of Wichita voters.
Last August, petitioners were 36 signatures short of the required 2,928 needed to put the issue on the November ballot. After that, the City Council directed city legal staff to help the petitioners re-draft the ballot language.
Council member Janet Miller said that with the Feb. 9 deadline to put questions on the ballot, the council will likely have to take action next Tuesday or at its meeting on Feb. 3, although that would allow less wiggle room if there are any issues.
“We’re tentatively planning to meet (Jan. 27) to consider it and vote on it,” she said.
Miller said she thinks most of the council would support putting the measure on the ballot and not just outright voting to lessens the penalty for first-time possession of marijuana.
If the question makes it to the ballot and passes, Miller said, she anticipates state lawmakers would challenge the ordinance.
“That would be the next phase of the saga if voters approve it,” she said.
Organizers for the Marijuana Reform Initiative are already inviting people to attend Tuesday’s council meeting to speak in support of the proposal.