Guest Commentary

Jamie Kacz: Decriminalization of marijuana better prioritizes our resources

The sky hasn’t fallen in other American cities that have passed marijuana decriminalization laws, writes Jamie Kacz, executive director of NORML KC.
The sky hasn’t fallen in other American cities that have passed marijuana decriminalization laws, writes Jamie Kacz, executive director of NORML KC. TNS

A “yes” vote on Question 5 is the sensible and pragmatic decision for Kansas City voters. Decriminalizing personal amounts of marijuana will save taxpayer dollars, better prioritize law enforcement resources and improve many residents’ educational and employment opportunities.

Voting “yes” on Question 5 doesn’t legalize marijuana. It merely ends the arrest, prosecution and jailing of Kansas City residents who utilize cannabis, a substance less addictive and harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and prescription narcotics. Since Kansas City police won’t be arresting and jailing minor marijuana offenders, our brave officers will have more time to combat serious crimes such as the unsolved murders, rapes and burglaries that unfortunately plague our community.

While not a quick fix, the passage of Question 5 will be a small step in the right direction to correct years of drug war injustices that have decimated black communities, leading prominent scholar Michelle Alexander to proclaim the war on drugs the “New Jim Crow.” Marijuana prohibition, like virtually all drug war policies, has disproportionately hurt communities of color.

It is unjust that black Kansas City residents have been singled out for the majority of marijuana arrests and prosecutions. As The Kansas City Star recently reported, approximately 70 percent of marijuana defendants are black, in a city that is about 30 percent black, even though studies show the same marijuana usage rate among white and black demographics.

On April 4, Kansas City voters could reduce penalties for marijuana possession to a $25 fine. What are the pros and cons?

Arresting, prosecuting and jailing people for personal marijuana possession takes up too much of our police officers’ time and too much of our taxpayer dollars when we have much more pressing issues.

The time it takes to place handcuffs on a minor marijuana offender, transport them to the police station, book the evidence and show up in future court proceedings would be better utilized elsewhere, as would the tax dollars we spend paying for the law enforcement and judicial costs.

It is clear that we have many more pressing issues facing our community. Kansas City’s violent crime rate is extremely worrisome. Kansas City’s 2016 homicide rate of 26 murders per 100,000 residents nearly matches the 28 per 100,000 rate of Chicago. While Chicago’s murder rate has garnered national attention, Kansas City was also recently singled out by the FBI as one of several U.S. cities responsible for the national violent crime increase.

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The 2016 homicide rate was an increase from the 22 per 100,000 residents rate we experienced in 2015, a rate much greater than the national average.

Don’t we want our police combating violent murderers instead of wasting their time arresting and jailing nonviolent, minor marijuana offenders? Passing Question 5 will allow our great city to better allocate our limited law enforcement resources to more effectively tackle our violent crime crisis.

Voting “yes” on Question 5 doesn’t mean that you approve of marijuana usage, it simply means that you want our police to spend time on serious and violent crime and want to save taxpayer dollars on judicial costs.

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Studies have shown that reforming marijuana laws hasn’t increased cannabis use by minors, and the experience of other cities and states shows that ending marijuana arrests for personal use leaves more dollars in the local government’s coffers — money that is better spent on other priorities instead of arresting, prosecuting and jailing nonviolent adults for using cannabis.

Decriminalizing marijuana is a sensible policy to save taxpayer dollars and better prioritize law enforcement resources. Similar measures have been passed in Columbia and St. Louis as well as Toledo, Ohio; Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The sky hasn’t fallen in cities that have reformed their marijuana laws in similar ways.

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It is time to stop wasting our resources on minor marijuana offenses. Kansas City voters should vote “yes” on Question 5.

Jamie Kacz is executive director of NORML KC.

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