Crime

Kansas City Voters Approve $25 Fine And No Jail For Pot

| by Ray Brown
A woman smoking marijuanaA woman smoking marijuana

Kansas City voters approved a resolution to punish people possessing small amounts of marijuana with a simple fine and no jail time.

With more than 70 percent voting for the measure, the maximum fine for possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana will be $25, a significantly lower amount than the previous $500 fine, according to The Kansas City Star.

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The measure also eliminated the possibility of jail time. Under the previous law, people caught with under 35 grams of marijuana faced up to 180 days in jail.

Marijuana reform advocates praised the vote.

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"It’s a very positive result because we know Kansas City is ready for this change," said Jamie Kacz, executive director of the Kansas City chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

City Prosecutor Lowell Gard said people caught with up to 35 grams of marijuana were rarely put in jail, but they still were forced to go through expensive diversion programs, which typically cost about $450, including drug testing and education classes.

And if those programs weren't successfully completed, warrants could be issued for their arrest.

The new measure lowers the fine to $25, but people convicted of marijuana possession will still get a criminal record and have to pay approximately $50 in court costs.

"This does not solve anything," said councilwoman Alissia Canady said, according to The Kansas City Star. "It just creates more problems for people who don’t have any money and are already overburdened by the criminal justice system."

"This is not a magic wand, it does not take away the impact of having a drug-related offense on your background check," Canady told KCUR.

But Dan Viets, a prominent marijuana reform advocate and criminal defense attorney in Missouri, disagreed with Canady's assessment of the new measure.

“It will appear on some public records, but I don’t think it makes much difference,” Viets said.

Viets further explained that a city court fine is far less damaging to a person's life than a misdemeanor conviction.

"I've seen people who had to drop out of college for a misdemeanor marijuana conviction because they were made ineligible for federal student aid," he said. "Now that does not apply to cases under city ordinance."

But Canady said that a criminal record can still be damaging and wealthier people are able to hire attorneys to get expungements, a privilege not accessible to poor people.

"Persons who are indigent may not be able to afford that themselves, so we have a relationship with legal aid where they represent clients like that in municipal court, but they have to be facing jail time to get that," she said.

Sources: The Kansas City Star, KCUR / Photo credit: ashton via Wikipedia

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