City commissioners are set to decide Tuesday how heavy the hand of the law should be in handing out fines related to a proposed city ordinance banning marijuana possession.
Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting will debate whether a new city ordinance should deviate from state law and set a minimum fine for first-time marijuana possession.
"I think it should be somewhat painful," said City Commissioner Sue Hack. "That is the tone of the communication I've heard from people, too. They're saying that it shouldn't just be a slap on the wrist."
Earlier this month, commissioners gave tentative approval to the idea of creating a new city ordinance that would allow first-time marijuana offenders to be tried in Municipal Court rather than Douglas County District Court. But they did not reach agreement on whether they should set a minimum fine for the offense.
Commissioners Mike Amyx and David Schauner both supported a fine, though Amyx proposed a $300 minimum and Schauner backed a fine more in the $50 range. Mayor Boog Highberger and Commissioner Mike Rundle said they believed the minimum fine should be up to the judge's discretion. The ordinance proposes a $2,500 maximum fine, which is the same as the state law used in District Court. Under state law, the city cannot lower the maximum fine. The state law has no minimum fine.
Laura Green, executive director of the Lawrence-based Kansas Drug Policy Forum, said she hoped commissioners would not create a minimum fine.
Here's a list of other Lawrence ordinances that have minimum fines that the judge must levy: ¢ minor in possession of alcohol: $300 ¢ possession of fake driver's license: $300 ¢ unlawful hosting: $300 ¢ driving under the influence: $500 ¢ cruelty to animal: $100 ¢ habitual violator of animal-at-large law: $100 ¢ stormwater pollution: $250 ¢ fire code violation: $100 ¢ noise ordinance: $50 ¢ traffic infraction: $60
"It would remove the ability of the judge to consider the entire person and all the circumstances," Green said.
Green brought forward the proposal of creating a new city law that would allow marijuana possession cases to be prosecuted in Municipal Court. She has argued that because Municipal Court cases generally move quicker than District Court cases, it will allow police officers and prosecutors to be more efficient. Municipal Court convictions also do not trigger a federal provision that can stop some students from receiving financial aid.
Green has gathered research that shows only three of the 50 largest cities in the state - Overland Park, Olathe and Garden City - have passed laws that impose harsher penalties than state law. Garden City has the largest fine - 96 hours in jail and a $500 fine.
City staff members also have gathered information that shows the city does have several laws on its books that impose minimum fines - ranging from $500 for a first offense driving under the influence to $50 for a noise violation.
Commissioners will meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
- Marijuana changes take step forward (10-26-05)
- 6News video: City advances marijuana changes (10-25-05)
- City officials to debate moving marijuana cases to Municipal Court (10-22-05)
- 6News video: City commissioners to hear marijuana proposal (10-21-05)
- Lawrence mentioned in marijuana magazine (10-11-05)
- Chat transcript with Mayor Boog Highberger (09-08-05)
- Court differences factor into marijuana ordinance (09-06-05)
- Branson supports ordinance sending pot offenders to municipal court (09-02-05)
- On the street: Should the state charge people who test positive for illegal drugs with possession? (08-31-05)