Lawrence City Commission to discuss reducing penalties for marijuana possession

photo by: Chris Conde

Lawrence City Hall is pictured in September 2018.

Lawrence city commissioners will soon consider whether the city should decrease its penalties for marijuana possession, which can include up to a $1,000 fine and mandatory drug counseling for first-time offenders.

As part of its work session Tuesday, the commission will review the city’s current ordinance regarding marijuana possession and receive a proposal to make the penalties less severe.

Currently, first-time offenders can be punished with a fine between $200 and $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to 180 days, according to the city ordinance. Those convicted of possession and those granted a diversion must undergo and pay for a mandatory drug-abuse evaluation, and the court may also require that they receive drug-abuse education, counseling or treatment.

Though the city’s ordinance allows for a fine of up to $1,000, Assistant City Attorney Maria Garcia said a first-time offender would typically be charged the minimum of $200. According to a city report that will be presented to the commission Tuesday, the city prosecutor’s recommended penalties for those convicted of marijuana possession are as follows:

• $200 fine (the minimum allowed by current city code).

• Substance-abuse evaluation and complete recommendations (class or treatment).

• 90-day jail sentence, suspended (the person does not serve the sentence unless a subsequent violation occurs).

• Six-month unsupervised probation: no law violations; pay fines or do community service work; pay court costs; and appear in court monthly or every two months until all obligations are satisfied.

• Second offense, same recommendations except a $300 fine and 12-month probation.

This summer, Lawrence resident Laura Green asked the commission that the fine for possession be set at $25 and the drug-abuse evaluation requirement be removed. Green will present her proposal to the commission Tuesday. Green previously told the Journal-World that she thought national attitudes regarding marijuana had been shifting since the city adopted its ordinance more than a decade ago and that the current penalties were financially burdensome.

Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department Director Dan Partridge also plans to address the commission briefly Tuesday, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The health department submitted a statement to the commission opposing the proposal to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. The statement references findings regarding marijuana use from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those include findings that marijuana can be addictive for some users and negatively affect brain function and development, especially for babies, children and teenagers.

In a letter to the city, Partridge states that knowledge is expanding regarding the consequences of marijuana and that the health department sides with the National Association of County and City Health Officials in urging caution when considering action that may encourage or reduce barriers to recreational use of marijuana.

The statement also addresses the drug-evaluation requirement, saying that assessment takes into account information from a person’s biology, psychological makeup and social interactions to assess the severity of addiction and what level of education or counseling is needed to reduce the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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