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Kansas Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Wichita Marijuana Ordinance

Katheirne Hitt, flickr Creative Commons

The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments on Thursday for and against a Wichita ordinance that allows lessened penalties for marijuana possession. The justices had pointed questions for both sides.

The Wichita ordinance allows a $50 fine and no jail time for first-time possession charges. Under state law, someone could face up to a year in jail and up to a $2500 fine for the same crime.

The attorney general’s office has said the ordinance should be knocked down because all the rules for collecting and submitting signatures weren’t properly followed. The attorney for the City of Wichita said striking the ordinance would be overturning the will of voters because of a technicality. But Justice Carol Beier responded that technicalities can be important.

“How do we tell a technicality from a rule that needs to be abided by when they all look the same? Lawyers like to use the term ‘technicality’ when they’re confronted with a rule they don’t like or don’t want to have applied,” Beier says.

Justice Caleb Stegall pointed out that state law only outlines maximum punishments. Judges can decide if jail time or large fines are justified.

“In reality, the maximum penalty available under the Wichita ordinance is within the range set by state statute,” Stegall says.

Stegall also noted that other Kansas communities have city ordinances that include lower penalties for some crimes than state law. An attorney for the state says those other ordinances should also be viewed as conflicting with state law.

The Kansas Supreme Court will now consider the arguments before issuing a ruling.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.