UG working on a new marijuana sentencing policy

The Unified Government Commission approved a resolution at last Thursday’s meeting that will result in a policy discussion on marijuana and sentencing.

According to Misty Brown, UG chief counsel, this effort began with a group of interested individuals discussing how the marijuana laws affected the residents of Wyandotte County. Brown spoke at the Sept. 29 UG meeting.

Their intent was to take away some of the penalties of the law, she said. More work is required by the committee to discuss larger issues, education, treatment and prevention, she said.

Commissioner Christian Ramirez said he completely supported the resolution.

Brown said the original discussion was about reducing penalties for conviction so as not to be overly burdensome to residents. Part of the discussion centered on a $10 fine for the first offense. But a problem, she said, is that the third offense is still a felony. If residents think it is a minor offense and then they are caught in another district, they potentially could have felony convictions on their record.

The committee will be looking at diversion expungement, and ways of making sure a conviction does not ruin someone’s life, she said.

Commissioner Andrew Davis said he supported this resolution. Missouri is heading toward legalization of marijuana, which will have an effect on this community, he said. He said the Kansas Legislature needs to get moving on the issue.

The country seems to be headed toward legalization, along with Missouri, and Colorado already has legalized marijuana, he said.

Mayor Tyrone Garner said the city of Wichita’s elected body has taken action to remove some major penalties involved with marijuana.

While the resolution that passed 9-0 on Sept. 29 by the UG Commission does not specifically support the decriminalization of marijuana outright, it does support developing a policy of education, prevention and treatment surrounding the possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia and the sentencing for the offenses. It mentions mitigation of overly burdensome penalties related to marijuana and paraphernalia offenses. It calls for an analysis of surrounding jurisdictions’ approaches to marijuana sentences and an analysis of public health research on the topic.

The policies that are developed by administrators, the mayor or the committee would come back to the UG Commission for review.

In response to President Biden’s announcement Thursday that those who had been convicted in federal court of simple marijuana offenses would be pardoned, and criminalization laws would be renewed, Kansas House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer issued a statement in support of a state effort.

“Here in Kansas, we need to pass medicinal marijuana and decriminalize possession as soon as we can. It’s the right thing to do for the economy, for healthcare patients, for opioid addicts, for retaining young people, for our farmers, for the state’s coffers, and most of all, for people who have been unfairly maligned for simple marijuana possession,”  Sawyer stated.

Kansas Treasurer Lynn Rogers issued a statement that an estimated $42 million in lost tax revenue in Kansas is left on the table each year with the current marijuana laws.

“It is past time for Kansas and the U.S. to end the criminalization of cannabis and recognize the agricultural and medical benefits while freeing up critical resources in law enforcement and justice,” Rogers said. “The Federal Government removing cannabis from the list of schedule 1 narcotics will allow Kansas to make critical changes to banking and enforcement that will free up our economy.”