(Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

Wichita lowers weed penalties. Mayor clarifies: not “in any way decriminalizing”

WICHITA, Kan. — The Wichita City Council on Tuesday unanimously gave initial approval to an ordinance that would reduce penalties for some first-time marijuana offenses.

Among other things, the ordinance approved Tuesday would require a $50 fine for most first-time offenders, who would not have to undergo drug-related counseling if they are over 21. A second marijuana conviction would bring a fine not to exceed $2,500 and one year in jail. Police would give most offenders a notice to appear in court, rather than arrest them, The Wichita Eagle reported.

The presumptive sentence won’t apply to those who have felony convictions in the past five years; been convicted of a Class A misdemeanor in the past three years; been convicted of marijuana possession at least once in the past three years; or who were arrested on suspicion of any felony, criminal misdemeanor or DU offense in conjunction with the alleged marijuana offense.

And to bring the city into compliance with state law, offenders who are required to complete drug testing at the Regional Forensic Science Center are required to pay laboratory fees, which typically cost about $400.

Wichita voters approved reducing some marijuana penalties in 2015 after a petition drive by advocates. The election results were challenged by Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who argued it conflicted with state law. The Kansas Supreme Court in 2016 invalidated the election results, citing a technicality in the petition process.

“We’re pushing the envelope about as far as we can push the envelope on this,” Mayor Jeff Longwell said after Tuesday’s vote. “It’s not, at this point, in any way decriminalizing.”

Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle