Jackson County prosecutor stops charging marijuana possession cases, with exceptions

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Tuesday that her office will stop prosecuting most marijuana possession cases.

The policy change, which will affect charging decisions at the state court level in Kansas City, Independence and throughout Jackson County, came in a written statement Tuesday afternoon.

In explaining the decision, Peters Baker cited the recent statewide vote to legalize medical marijuana by constitutional amendment.

“That mandate from voters is directing this shift in our office,” Peters Baker said. “This changing attitude toward marijuana is something we have been seeing anecdotally from our juries for some time.”

Three in four voters in Jackson County favored passage of the state medical marijuana amendment, Baker noted.

Jackson County prosecutors are not the first to make the move.

In June, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced that her office would no longer prosecute people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Prosecutors in other large cities, including Philadelphia and in the New York borough of Manhattan, have also announced similar policies in recent months.

Jackson County Sheriff Darryl Forté called Baker’s decision “bold and progressive.”

“Once again, she is showing that she is a leader,” Forté said.

“We would have to look at our policies and see how to proceed, because we will not present any drug cases that are not going to be prosecuted,” he said. “Since she is taking the lead, we will tweak our policies and procedures to make sure nobody will get falsely arrested.”

The Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office typically has handled hundreds of marijuana possession cases over the course of a year.

No cases are expected to be dismissed immediately because of the policy, said Michael Mansur, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. Pending cases will be evaluated based on the new policy.

Peters Baker said there will be some exceptions to the no-prosecution policy.

People who sell or distribute marijuana “without proper authority,” will still face possible charges.

Possession of items “that are routinely associated with the illegal sale or distribution of marijuana,” such as individually packaged bags of the drug, or a scale, could result in charges being filed.

The same would apply to cases where large amounts of cash or firearms are found in conjunction with drug cases.

Jackson County prosecutors will also continue to prosecute cases in which the possession of marijuana results in “drugged driving or where possession of marijuana results in harm to a child.”

Peters Baker said her office will conduct two public safety awareness campaigns in the county.

The first will warn caregivers to keep packaged edible marijuana products away from children.

The second campaign will focus on “drugged driving,” emphasizing that it is still illegal for marijuana users to drive under the influence.

“Voters spoke very clearly and overwhelmingly,” Baker said. “But we need to keep the drug — like any drug — away from the kids, and driving while high is a serious crime that puts us all at risk.”

Peters Baker noted that her decision will not affect federal drug policy, which still considers marijuana illegal.

Kansas City police will continue to enforce federal, state and local laws that govern illegal marijuana possession, said Capt. Lionel Colón, a Kansas City Police Department spokesman.

“We will evaluate any impact and how we operate as things develop down the road,” Colón said in a written statement

Tim Garrison, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said the Missouri vote did not change the status of marijuana as an illegal drug under federal law.

“However, federal marijuana prosecutions in this district always have focused on disrupting and dismantling large-scale drug-trafficking organizations, not individual users or possessors of marijuana,” Garrison said in a written statement. “The limited legalization of marijuana under state law will not change that focus.”

Garrison said his office will continue to use its resources to “aggressively prosecute large-scale drug-trafficking organizations.”

City prosecutors, as well, can still prosecute marijuana possession cases in municipal court. Kansas City voters lowered penalties there last year, removing jail time.

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