I have long been a fan of local marijuana reform efforts. They are obviously not as good as a statewide reform victory, but a lot of local victories can add up. I always say that if you can't win at the state level, focus your energy towards local efforts. Local victories show the rest of the state that there is more support for marijuana reform than some people think in the state. It helps build momentum towards an eventual state-level victory.
Next month citizens of Wichita, Kansas will get the chance to vote to decriminalize marijuana. The vote, which occurs on April 7th, will give people the chance to vote on marijuana reform in a state that has long been considered off limits to such efforts. A victory in Kansas, even if it's just one city, would send a message to the rest of America, and would be extremely significant, as Anthony Johnson points out on MarijuanaPolitics.Com:
Wichita successfully decriminalizing this year will have positive repercussions not only across Kansas, but across the Midwest and even the South as more conservative states with local initiative power could be motivated to move forward with sensible reforms. While many cannabis law reform advocates and even many in the general population, feel that legalization is inevitable and the nation is ready for change, marijuana doesn't legalize or even decriminalize itself. Many advocates have to put in long hours and prohibitionists don't sit idly by, they will continue to trot out old, debunked Reefer Madness propaganda about marijuana decriminalization leading to an increased number of heroin addicts or even Reefer Madness 2.0 claims about "Big Marijuana" pushing marketing marijuana to children.
The Wichita measure, while a sensible, pragmatic step forward that many see as common sense, certainly isn't a slam dunk on a special April electoral ballot in Kansas. The very first marijuana law reform measure I worked on was on the ballot in Columbia, Missouri, on April 8, 2003. The Columbia Daily Tribune headline was, "Voters smoke pot proposal," as a measure that would have decriminalized under 35 grams for all adults and allowed medical patients to legally possess the personal amount garnered around 42% of the vote. The following year, in a November presidential election, decriminalization and medicinal use passed with 61% & 69% respectively as the Tribune's headline now read, "Marijuana measures pass handily." While voters attitudes across the nation have improved dramatically since 2003, I am still concerned about the prospects for Wichita's measure if advocates across the nation aren't motivated to help.
Voter turnout is the key to the Wichita decriminalization measure. If just the usual voters turnout, the proposal could very well lose. However, if voter turnout is increased and younger voters send in their ballots, then the marijuana movement can achieve an important victory that can have a big impact on people's lives, especially students in Wichita State who can lose their financial aid because of a misdemeanor conviction or those looking for a job or already on probation or parole. Cannabis community, let's help these advocates in Wichita, which in turn helps us and other advocates across the country. If you are able, please donate to Kansas for Change and please spread the word.
If passed, the decriminalization ordinance would apply to possession of 32 grams or less of cannabis, and would result in just a $50 fine. The ordinance would also apply to paraphernalia. Currently, possession of a personal amount of marijuana or paraphernalia in Kansas is a misdemeanor punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. The offense, from a penalty perspective, is the equivalent to assaulting a police officer. That is clearly unacceptable.