Douglas County DA to stop prosecuting simple marijuana possession cases

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson is pictured in this Journal-World file photo from May 2018.

Douglas County prosecutors will no longer file criminal cases for simple marijuana possession, District Attorney Charles Branson announced Thursday.

Branson said the decision, which was announced in a news release Thursday afternoon and is effective immediately, was made “after a careful survey of policies in other cities, including Lawrence, Wichita, and Kansas City, Missouri.”

“I do not feel it is fair or just for Douglas County to criminally charge citizens with something they can do with virtually no penalty in the City of Lawrence and other surrounding communities,” Branson said in the release.

Earlier this year, the Lawrence City Commission voted to amend city ordinance and reduce fines to $1 for first and second convictions for marijuana possession in the city’s municipal court. The reduced fine applied to people 18 and over who were convicted of possessing 32 grams or less of marijuana. The city did not change related municipal court fines for drug paraphernalia possession, and in many cases additional court and diversion costs still apply.

Branson said he recognized the public’s changing attitudes toward simple marijuana possession and hoped the decision would free up courts and law enforcement to focus on more serious issues.

Felony possession, driving while impaired and the cultivation of marijuana with the intent to distribute will still be prosecuted at the discretion of the District Attorney’s Office, and possession is still illegal under state and federal law, as well as in most Kansas communities, the release said.

“It is true that drug and alcohol addiction is a real problem in our community; however, the prosecution of simple marijuana offenses has a disproportional impact upon people of color and the poor,” Branson said in the release. “For those with addiction issues, jail sentences are ineffective. As a community, we have to focus on better treatment methods and reducing financial barriers to those seeking treatment.”


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