WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — In a vote of 5-2, the Wichita City Council voted to reduce the penalties for people caught with marijuana or fentanyl test strips on Tuesday.
It was an issue that has been up for discussion in the past several months.
Fentanyl strips would no longer be classified as drug paraphernalia, and marijuana possession would be decriminalized in the city. Possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia would remain illegal under state law.
Many people, including city council members, were on board with the fentanyl testing strips, but there was uncertainty surrounding the changes to marijuana policies.
An average of 850 cases for illegal possession of marijuana are filed each year in municipal court. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett is concerned about what this change might do.
“I have no ability to simply just absorb that many cases,” said Bennett.
Wichita City Council member Bryan Frye wanted to push back the decision because he feels the council should have had more input from the public.
“Our court system and jail system is going to have more pressure and burden put on them on top of them where we used to collect fines now by putting people in jail we have to pay Sedgwick County for that,” said Frye.
Mayor Brandon Whipple said this is a step in the right direction in lessening the impact on someone’s life if they get caught with a small amount of marijuana.
“There is a huge economic backlash that was an unintended consequence of the actions that were taken in 2017,” said Mayor Whipple.
Bennett said the prosecution of possession is not common, but if prosecuted, people could pay a minimum of $360.
“We don’t lock people up. Our jail and prisons in Kansas are not full, and anyone who tells you otherwise are not full of marijuana possessors. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you, or they haven’t done their research,” Bennett said.
Marijuana and fentanyl testing strips remain illegal in Wichita.
“What we are doing is we are just looking at removing small-time offenses to make sure that it stays off criminal records,” said Wichita City Council member Mike Hoheisel.
As for how the Wichita Police Department handles small possession cases with this change, Mayor Whipple said they have discretion but can still arrest.
“There are always going to be unforeseen circumstances that pop up. We will address those as they come up,” said Hoheisel.
Once again, that motion passed by a vote of 5-2. The proposed ordinance changes must go through a second reading to allow this to officially change.