Editorial: Revisit law on marijuana

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

It’s reasonable for Lawrence city leaders to lower punishments for marijuana possession in the wake of shifting public attitudes toward the drug.

Lawrence resident Laura Green prompted the marijuana discussion when she presented a proposal to the City Commission to make changes to the ordinance governing marijuana possession. Green focused largely on lowering fines.

Under current ordinance, marijuana possession can include a fine of $200 to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail for a first-time offender. Those convicted of possession for the second time face a fine between $200 to $2,500 and potential jail time not to exceed a year.

Green said the penalties in the city’s ordinance are financially burdensome, and should be “modernized” given the growing acceptance of marijuana use throughout the country.

“I would say that the main reason we want to take a look at this is attitudes have changed in the country in the last 12 years, and certainly laws have changed,” said Green, who successfully pushed in 2005 for the current marijuana ordinance, which moved marijuana possession cases from District Court to Municipal Court and established the punishment guidelines.

A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 60 percent of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana. After Oklahomans voted to do so last week, 30 states have now legalized medical marijuana, and nine states now allow recreational use of marijuana to varying levels.

Kansas has not allowed for medical or recreational use of marijuana.

Green wants the fine for possession to be set at $25. Green also wants to get rid of the requirement that those convicted of possession undergo a drug-abuse evaluation.

There were 60 convictions for possession of marijuana last year, according to Municipal Court Manager Vicki Stanwix.

Mayor Stuart Boley and Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen both showed an interest in revising the ordinance if for no other reason than it has been a dozen years since the ordinance was created and implemented.

The city should investigate the ordinance, starting with the cost effectiveness of managing marijuana possession cases. Given rapidly shifting public sentiment toward acceptance of marijuana, it makes sense to revisit the city’s ordinance and consider lowering fines and jail time.


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