As marijuana reform continues to wash across the country, Kansas City has become the next place to change its marijuana laws. Despite the fact that the state of Missouri has not legalized marijuana, on Tuesday, its biggest city, Kansas City, overwhelmingly voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the plant. Almost 75 percent of voters chose to decriminalize possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana and give out a civil fine in the amount of $25. A civil fine is the same as getting a parking ticket, as opposed to being a criminal fine that results in a mark on the criminal record.
The Problems with Missouri’s Current Marijuana Laws
Currently, if you’re caught with up to 35 grams of marijuana in Kansas City, you will be arrested, fined up to $500 and incur possible jail time of up to 6 months. The charge results as a misdemeanor on your record which is where the heart of the problem lies. This can affect employment, housing and even someone’s ability to apply for financial aid as a student. The ramifications are enormous for a crime that is legal or decriminalized in a lot of the country. Another disturbing aspect is that according to the Kansas City Star 70 percent of people arrested in Kansas City during 2016 were black. This is a stunning statistic since only 30 percent of the city’s population are black and there is no difference in cannabis usage between the races. The new law would serve to prevent this kind of disproportionate arrest activity in the state.
Ending “the Era of Reefer Madness”
The Kansas City chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was responsible for getting the initiative on the ballot. Representatives from the organization said that during the signature collecting process, many voters expressed that they wanted the marijuana arrests to stop. “The era of reefer madness in Kansas City has come to an end, and no longer will otherwise law abiding citizens be targeted or arrested for the mere possession of marijuana,” stated Jamie Kacz, executive director of KC NORML.
Remaining Threat from Missouri State Police
While this move represents a great leap forward for Kansas City residents, there is still a long way to go. The Kansas City Police Department will be the only ones adhering to the new city law. Kansas City residents can still be arrested by the Missouri State Police, even if they are within the Kansas City limits. Until marijuana reform hits the state level, full protection from the criminal justice system cannot be offered for those incurring minor marijuana possession charges.
The overwhelmingly strong outcome of the vote shows that Middle America has become more and more ready for marijuana reform to take place and the majority of residents are ready to end prohibition. Other places, such as Columbia and St. Louis, have taken similar steps and the trend continues to grow across the country. It can only be a matter of time before federal law reflects the will of the people. Until then, city lawmakers are taking the necessary steps to create as much protection for residents as possible.