A group that seeks to decriminalize marijuana possession in Kansas City has submitted more than 4,000 petition signatures to the clerk’s office, asking the City Council to adopt its proposal or put a measure on the April ballot.
The measure says possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana would be treated as a city ordinance violation with a $25 fine, rather than a more serious criminal violation that would go on someone’s permanent record.
“It keeps people out of prison,” said Jamie Kacz, executive director of the Kansas City chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, whose mission is educating people about safe marijuana use and advocating for decriminalization in Kansas City.
She said that in 2015, more than 1,000 people were arrested in Kansas City for marijuana-related offenses, with more than half under age 28. Convictions for these nonviolent offenses, she said, can lead to loss of scholarships, incarceration and a permanent criminal record, which can have a detrimental impact on future employment prospects.
Kacz said her group has been gathering signatures of registered voters since this summer and has gotten a good reception from most people for their idea. They collected more than 2,300 signatures on Election Day, Nov. 8, alone. Petition initiatives in Kansas City currently need 1,708 valid signatures. Once petitions are certified by the city’s election boards, the council can either adopt the proposal on its own or put it on a local election ballot.
Kacz said she is confident this proposal would pass legal muster because similar measures have already been adopted in St. Louis and Columbia.
Missouri already has relaxed its marijuana law slightly. As of Jan. 1, state law removes the threat of jail for possession of up to 10 grams for first-time offenders. Kacz said that’s a step in the right direction but doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Kacz has met with council members Jolie Justus and Teresa Loar and said she hopes to meet with others. Loar and Justus said they were keeping an open mind about the proposal. Justus said she supports the ultimate decriminalization of marijuana possession on a state and national level, but she wants to make sure this Kansas City proposal doesn’t prompt a backlash from Missouri state lawmakers or have other unintended consequences.