The majority of Wichita voters favor reducing penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders, but State Attorney General Derek Schmidt doesn’t care what the voters think—and he’s making no bones about it.
On Tuesday, voters in Kansas’ largest city (population 387,000) went to the ballot box to decide whether to revise the way marijuana laws are enforced within the city limits. By a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent, residents decided in favor of a municipal initiative reducing penalties for first-time marijuana offenses (involving the possession of up to one ounce) to a civil infraction punishable by a $50 fine. The new local ordinance is a stark departure from state law, which classifies the first-time possession of even one gram of pot as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
But the state’s Republican Attorney General, along with several state lawmakers, are less than thrilled about Wichita voters’ recent exercise in democracy. In fact, the AG has gone so far as to threaten to sue the city of Wichita if it dares to enact the voter-approved law. State Representative Steve Brunk has publicly called the measure “an illegal petition.”
As a result, the city is now looking to the courts to issue a declaratory judgment in regard to whether the voter-approved measure is enforceable and may legally be enacted.
“Due to the Attorney General’s opinion, the city is asking the court to tell us whether the ordinance may be enforced and/or enacted into law by the city,” council member Janet Miller said in a press release. “The City Council’s action, in placing the ordinance on the ballot, was focused on respect for Wichita residents who were concerned enough about this issue to submit a petition with 3,000 signatures. The right to petition the City Council for ordinance changes through a referendum is basic to our form of government.”