The mayor of Kansas City introduced an ordinance on Wednesday that would end all penalties for marijuana possession under the municipality’s local laws. He also plans to pursue efforts to remove other “minor drug offenses from our code.”
Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and four members of the City Council filed the cannabis measure, which would repeal a provision of the Code of Ordinances stipulating that possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana carries a $25 fine and more than 35 grams is punishable by a $500 fine.
“One of the ways we improve police-community relations is by eliminating laws that for too long have led to negative interactions, arrests, convictions, and disproportionate rates of incarceration of Black men and Black women,” Lucas said in a press release. “Reducing petty offenses—such as municipal marijuana offenses—reduce these negative interactions each day.”
Decriminalization does not mean we eliminate public health and mental health resources for those dealing with substance abuse. It means we don't incarcerate folks who may well need treatment instead. We spend money on treatment rather than jailing too many from our communities.
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) June 18, 2020
While this measure would not change Missouri state laws that continue to criminalize cannabis for non-medical use, the mayor said the city “doesn’t need to be in that business” and “instead, we remain focused on how we can help open doors to new opportunities and empower people to make a decent living.”
The ordinance is expected to be taken up by the Council’s Finance, Governance, and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday and then go before the full Council the next day.
Text of the measure describes racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests and states that the Council “believes future resources should be focused on the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of violent crime in Kansas City.”
“In 2018 voters overwhelmingly showed their support for medicinal marijuana, making it clear that they want to see reform,” Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said, referring to the statewide voter-approved measure establishing a medical cannabis market. “Cosponsoring this legislation is a good first step.”
The year prior to the medical marijuana vote, Kansas City residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of a local ballot measure to decriminalize possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis.
In February, Lucas announced a pardon program for those with previous convictions for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.
A campaign to legalize marijuana for adult use in Missouri ended in April due to complications from the coronavirus pandemic.
The mayor isn’t singularly focused on marijuana, either. He introduced a separate resolution calling on the city manager to review all ordinances in the code that “that have led to negative interactions, arrest, conviction, and incarceration of black men and black women in disproportionately high numbers.” That includes “those covering minor drug offenses.”
One way we improve police-community relations is by eliminating laws–like those covering minor drug offenses or criminalizing poverty–that have led to negative interactions, arrest, conviction, and incarceration of black men and black women in disproportionately high numbers. pic.twitter.com/OUPaF9k1sT
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) June 13, 2020
“I’ll be clear. We should remove any marijuana or minor drug offenses from our code,” he said.
I'll be clear. We should remove any marijuana or minor drug offenses from our code. We should end failure-to-pay arrest warrants. We should stop wondering why there are disproportionately higher negative police-community interactions in neighborhoods where we are "over-law'ed"
— Mayor Q (@QuintonLucasKC) June 13, 2020
A vote on that resolution is on the Council agenda for Thursday, and a spokesperson for the mayor told Marijuana Moment “we’re optimistic it will” pass.
“I imagine other low-level drugs will continue to be a part of this conversation,” the spokesperson said.
Lucas’s ordinance is the latest example of officials and lawmakers taking proactive steps to pursue drug policy reform, with many acknowledging the role criminalization plays in perpetuating racial injustices.
Nevada’s governor introduced a resolution that was approved on Wednesday to automatically pardon more than 15,000 people with cannabis possession convictions.
Colorado lawmakers passed a bill this week that will allow that state’s governor to unilaterally pardon people with past convictions for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said earlier this month that legalization was “about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”
The governor of Virginia recently said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans.
Read the Kansas City mayor’s proposed marijuana ordinance below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.