City passes marijuana ordinance

First-time offenders to face $200 fine, drug evaluation

The penalties are set to change – and in some ways stiffen – for people caught smoking marijuana in Lawrence.

City commissioners on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night passed a new ordinance that will impose a $200 minimum fine for first-time marijuana possession and require offenders to complete a drug evaluation program.

Commissioners approved the new law after the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas – a Lawrence-based group that advocates for fewer penalties for marijuana offenders – asked the city to create an ordinance that would allow first-time marijuana possession cases to be tried in Municipal Court rather than the state’s District Court system.

But the advocacy group didn’t exactly get what it wanted. The $200 fine, plus a $100 fee for an evaluation program, is more than many first-time offenders pay in Douglas County District Court. There’s no minimum fine in District Court, but fines generally range from $25 to $100.

Forum hopes to raise awareness, funds

The Drug Policy Forum of Kansas will continue its lecture series tonight with a speaker and a concert at the Jackpot Saloon, 943 Mass.
The forum hopes the party will help raise awareness and funds for its ongoing lecture series about marijuana policy in the city, state and nationally.
To kick off the event, High Times founder Ed Rosenthal will speak to the crowd. Later, rock bands Connor and The Ants, among others, will perform.
The event starts at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.

“I think the fine is too high,” said Laura Green, executive director of the forum. “I’m opposed to the fees because I think this is more of a public health issue.”

City Commissioner Mike Rundle and Mayor Boog Highberger agreed. Rundle called marijuana usage a victimless crime, and Highberger said most people who use marijuana “don’t have any trouble with it.”

“I just don’t see any justification for this fine at all,” Highberger said.

Both Rundle and Highberger said they were willing to support an alternative ordinance that would have imposed a $100 minimum fine and a mandatory evaluation program.

Other commissioners, though, balked at that proposal.

“This is just a line I have to draw,” City Commissioner Sue Hack said. “I don’t think $100 is significant enough to discourage people.”

The new city ordinance will make it less likely that a marijuana conviction will cause students to lose their federal financial aid. A conviction in Municipal Court does not trigger a federal provision that causes students to have their aid revoked or suspended.

The financial aid provision was a major reasons the Drug Policy Forum pushed for the change. For that reason, Green said she didn’t regret pursuing the change. But she said she would be keeping a close eye on how the new city ordinance works.

“If it becomes a revenue-generating source for the city, with traps that are set up to catch people, we will be back to talk to the commission about that,” Green said.

The new ordinance won’t take effect for at least another two weeks, as city commissioners finalize its passage.

Beautification plan for downtown funded

City commissioners Tuesday unanimously agreed to allocate $90,000 to a downtown beautification plan.

Commissioners told staff to move ahead with a new planting strategy designed to ensure that downtown planters are full of colorful plants during more months of the year. The plan includes the hiring of a new full-time maintenance person to care for downtown plants, along with several part-time employees who would be responsible for weeding and watering.

After hearing from representatives of the publishing industry – including the Journal-World – commissioners directed staff to not move ahead with portions of the plan that would consolidate newspaper racks and establish guidelines for their placement downtown. Instead, commissioners said they wanted staff to discuss the issue in more detail with newspaper representatives.

Funding approved for housing conference

A conference on affordable housing likely will occur sometime in May in Lawrence.

City commissioners unanimously agreed to provide $3,000 in funding for a conference that will help bring all stakeholders in the affordable housing discussion together. The conference is being proposed by the Joint Housing Committee, which is made up of members of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, League of Women Voters and Kaw Valley Living Wage Alliance.

In a related item, Mayor Boog Highberger received permission from city commissioners to create a task force to study the issue of affordable housing. Highberger said he would appoint individuals to the task force at next week’s meeting.

Commission delays traffic-calming discussion

Commissioners delayed discussion on a recommendation to add traffic-calming devices along 13th Street between Connecticut Street and Haskell Avenue. Commissioners will discuss the item at next week’s meeting, when they will have more time to discuss the issue.

City gives green light to KU bus application

Commissioners unanimously authorized an agreement that will allow Kansas University to apply for Federal Transit Administration funds to purchase five buses for the university’s new park and ride system.

The purchase would not require any city funding, but the city needed to sign off on the idea because it is the designated representative to receive FTA funds in this area.

Property sale OK’d near Sport 2 Sport

Commissioners gave tentative approval to sell 1.1 acres of property adjacent to the former Sport 2 Sport complex, 5200 Clinton Parkway, to Mike Elwell for $26,000. Elwell will use the property to expand his new tennis center, which has taken over the indoor space of Sport 2 Sport.

Report to examine employee vehicle use

Commissioners asked for a report in the next month giving more detail on how city vehicles that are allowed to be taken home by city employees are used.

Commissioners received a report on a recommended policy spelling out when vehicles can be taken home, but commissioners wanted to see more information to determine whether there could be cuts in the number of vehicles that are allowed to be taken home.

A report by City Manager Mike Wildgen found that 65 of the city’s 168 vehicles are being taken home by employees who are subject to being called back into work after hours. He said a new policy may be able to reduce that number.

Wildgen estimated that the vehicle program resulted in about $70,000 per year in fuel and mileage costs, but City Commissioner Mike Rundle strongly objected to that analysis. He said he though the costs could be about $40,000 higher when depreciation of the vehicles was factored into the equation.