Lawrence police officers shouldn't decrease their efforts to find marijuana users, a majority of city commissioners said Tuesday night.
Commissioners did direct staff members to research a proposal by the Lawrence-based Kansas Drug Policy Forum that would allow people charged with marijuana possession to be prosecuted in Municipal Court rather than Douglas County District Court. But three commissioners said they had concerns about a second part of the proposal that would direct Lawrence police officers to make marijuana possession a low enforcement priority.
"This should never be a low priority because it is illegal," said City Commissioner Mike Amyx.
Commissioners Sue Hack and David Schauner also said it was unlikely that they would be able to support that part of the proposal.
Laura Green, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, said she was pleased with the commission's willingness to consider moving prosecution of marijuana possession to Municipal Court. But the issue of making the offense a lower enforcement priority, she said, has not yet been well understood.
"There is a misconception that low priority will mean no enforcement, or that people will feel comfortable smoking (marijuana) on our streets," Green said. "That is just not the case."
Green said she wanted the city to create a policy of making marijuana possession a low enforcement priority because she believes it would free up police officers to more aggressively seek out harder drug users and drug dealers.
Moving cases to Municipal Court instead of having them heard in District Court should be quicker and more cost-effective, Green said. By moving the cases to Municipal Court, it also would not subject students who are convicted of marijuana possession to provisions of the federal Higher Education Act, which allows students to lose their federal student aid for a year after a first-time conviction of marijuana possession. All other penalties related to marijuana possession would remain unchanged from what currently are levied in District Court.
All five commissioners said they were willing to consider moving the cases to Municipal Court. Two commissioners - Mayor Boog Highberger and Commissioner Mike Rundle - strongly supported the idea.
"Moving it to Municipal Court makes a lot of sense," Highberger said. "I think the effect of the Higher Education Act is just too harsh. It is not three strikes and you are out. It is one strike and you are out."
After the meeting, Green did clarify the law and conceded a conviction does not entirely ban students from financial aid. The law allows first-time offenders to continue receiving financial aid if they go through a government-approved drug treatment program that includes two random drug tests. Green, though, said the government standards made such programs expensive and difficult to find.
Commissioners directed staff members to research what other cities do with marijuana laws and cost issues related to moving the cases to Municipal Court.
City commissioners welcome Eutin students
City commissioners Tuesday night welcomed a group of students from Lawrence's sister city of Eutin, Germany.
A group of 13 students and one teacher arrived in Lawrence on Friday for a six-week stay in the city. All the students are attending classes at either Free State or Lawrence high schools and are staying with host families. This is the 16th annual exchange that Lawrence has hosted.
Consulting group hired for public library project
Community members soon will be asked what they want in a new Lawrence Public Library.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to hire Minneapolis, Minn.-based Meyer, Scherer and Rockcastle to serve as a library programming consultant. A major part of the work that the consultants will do is to conduct six public meetings to gain input about the future of the library. Dates for those meetings haven't been set yet.
The consulting contract is expected to cost $52,580.
City commissioners have said they are interested in looking at plans to double the size of the Lawrence Public Library.
Commissioners also have directed library leaders to keep the facility in downtown, preferably on or near its current site at 707 Vt.
Search to get under way for sewage treatment site
The search is set to begin to find a piece of property for a new sewer treatment plant on the Wakarusa River.
Commissioners agreed via a 5-0 vote to spend $517,500 to hire Black & Veatch engineers to search for an adequate piece of property to house the estimated $76 million sewer plant.
The plant is scheduled to come on line in 2010, and is needed to ensure that the city has enough sewer treatment capacity to serve projected growth.
New blast regulations to go into effect on Jan. 1
Construction crews that use dynamite and other explosives to blast rock will have a new set of regulations to follow come Jan. 1.
Commissioners unanimously approved new regulations that require greater notification of surrounding property owners and informational meetings about blasting activities in the city.
The city's Uniform Fire Code Board of Appeals began working on the new regulations after some West Lawrence residents complained that blasting activity for a new housing development was occurring too close to their homes and without enough notice.
Several members of the construction community told commissioners that they believed the new regulations would add unnecessary costs to many projects.