Kansas City may become the latest major American city to significantly relax its marijuana laws, after the mayor and members of the city council there introduced a new ordinance this week.
Under the proposal, possession and control of cannabis would no longer constitute a violation under city ordinance. The measure was introduced Thursday by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, a Democrat who took office last year, along with four members of the city council.
“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, as quoted by local television network KMBC. “Reducing petty offenses – such as municipal marijuana offenses – reduce these negative interactions each day.”
One of the councilmembers backing the ordinance, Ryana Parks-Shaw, told KMBC that the reform measure was made possible by a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana that was approved by Missouri voters in 2018. An effort to get a recreational marijuana proposal on this year’s ballot fell short.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Lucas, who is black, called the proposal “[s]tep one in removing laws that lead to disproportionate stops and incarceration of black women and black men.”
“Petty drug offenses are an area of the greatest disparity by race despite similar marijuana usage across races,” he said. “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.”
Marijuana Reform in Kansas City
Marijuana reform has been one of Lucas’ top policy priorities since taking office. In his campaign last year, he pledged to pardon “all stand-alone municipal marijuana convictions,” and in February, he made good, announcing that he would pardon a number of past marijuana offenses going back decades in Kansas City.
“Society can’t just simply say … in 2020, we think marijuana is OK, but if you were somebody who got in trouble in 2019, or if you’re somebody who’s getting in trouble today but you just don’t happen to be pursuing a medical marijuana license, or you just don’t happen to be in the right place, or you can’t afford a lawyer when you’re stopped — that you should have to suffer some greater imposition of sentence than someone else can,” Lucas said at the time, as quoted by the Kansas City Star.
Kansas City voters pushed for reform three years ago, when they passed a 2017 to scale back fines and eliminate jail sentences for marijuana offenses. But some Kansas City officials aren’t so keen. Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith claimed last year that the city’s spike in murder rate was attributed to marijuana, and he argued that legalization of marijuana “is no panacea, and has in fact increased crime and drugged driving in the states where it has happened.”