A proposal that would allow marijuana smokers to be prosecuted in Municipal Court could end up costing violators a stiffer fine, which is opposite of what supporters of the ordinance had hoped.
City commissioners Tuesday informally agreed to move ahead on an ordinance that would allow first-time marijuana offenders to be tried in Municipal Court instead of Douglas County District Court.
But commissioners disagreed on whether the city should impose a minimum fine on people found guilty of first-time marijuana possession. State law, which is used in District Court, does not mandate judges to impose a minimum fine. City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he didn't think that was a wise policy, in part because the city needs to be assured that it will take in enough money to cover the costs of prosecuting the cases.
"I would strongly recommend that we have at least a $300 minimum fine," Amyx said.
City Commissioner David Schauner agreed that a minimum fine might be warranted, but said it should be closer to $50.
"I don't want to make it so high that it becomes a real financial burden," Schauner said.
- 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)
Whether a third city commissioner will support the idea of a minimum fine was unclear though. Commissioner Sue Hack said she wasn't sure how she felt about a minimum fine. Commissioners agreed to bring the ordinance back - without a minimum fine - but agreed to discuss the issue further before giving it formal approval at their Nov. 8 meeting.
Mayor Boog Highberger and Commissioner Mike Rundle both said they did not support adding a minimum fine to the ordinance.
"I think we ought to leave the discretion with the judge as we do with almost all of our other municipal offenses," Highberger said.
Not original intent
Laura Green, executive director of the Lawrence-based Kansas Drug Policy Forum, proposed the ordinance, in part, because her group believed forcing offenders to go through the more complicated District Court process was an inefficient use of law enforcement resources and was unduly burdensome to offenders.
"I would be disappointed if they did add a minimum fine," Green said.
The ordinance also does not include a provision that would direct police officers to make enforcement of marijuana possession a lesser priority. Such policies have been adopted in some communities - such as Columbia, Mo. - and was requested by Green.
Green said she may ask commissioners to reconsider the enforcement issue if she sees evidence that the number of marijuana cases being prosecuted by the city is rising significantly.
Green also said she hoped commissioners would rethink a proposed provision that would require all first-time offenders to go to an eight-hour drug and alcohol class. She said the classes many times didn't include lessons specifically about marijuana usage.
City staff members, though, said there was a good reason to require some sort of treatment program.
"If you don't offer some sort of help, you hear that the system failed them," said Scott Miller, a staff attorney for the city.
Miller said the city could choose to require each offender to go through an individual drug and alcohol evaluation, which might be more effective in identifying substance abuse problems. But Miller said the evaluation would cost each offender around $150, compared to $60 for the eight-hour class.
Green said she believed that marijuana offenders shouldn't be required to go through the treatment program after their first offense.
Other provisions of the proposed ordinance include:
¢ Only first-time offenders could be prosecuted in Municipal Court. Repeat violators would be charged in District Court.
¢ The maximum fine under the proposed ordinance is $2,500 and/or one year in jail. Those are the maximum fines currently used in District Court. Under state law, the city can't lower the maximum fines.
¢ Offenders would not automatically be required to pay a $400 state fee to have seized marijuana tested in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratory. People who do not contest that seized material is marijuana would not have to pay the fee.
¢ Lawrence police officers would have the discretion to either arrest and book offenders in the Douglas County Jail or provide them with a notice to appear in Municipal Court. Police officers currently aren't required to arrest offenders in order to charge them in District Court.