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Citizens Line Up To Support Loosening Kansas City's Marijuana Laws

A Kansas City Council meeting was packed with supporters of a proposal that would decriminalize most marijuana possession in the city.
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A Kansas City Council meeting was packed with supporters of a proposal that would decriminalize most marijuana possession in the city.

People from all over Kansas City packed a city council hearing Wednesday to support a change in the city's marijuana laws. 

The committee delayed a decision on the proposed ordinance, sponsored by newly elected Councilman Brandon Ellington, which would essentially decriminalize the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana.

“This city’s citizens have been impacted negatively by cannabis for far too long,” Christina Frommer from the Canna Convict Project told a council committee. Those convicted of possessing marijuana "have lost homes. They have lost families. They've lost jobs," she said.

Monrovio Perez from midtown said changing the law is a social justice issue. “By fixing these issues we’re helping to turn the tide on systemic racism. The people who get caught up in the system are more brown than they are white. That’s just a natural reality.”

There were so many people who wanted to speak about the ordinance committee chair Katheryn Shields finally asked people in favor to stand. About 20 rose. When she asked for those opposed to stand, nobody did.

“I think it’s clear as day that the war on drugs, especially marijuana, has failed,” Colby Kirk from the Blue Hills neighborhood said. He added, “There’s a ton of health benefits.” 

Kansas City Health Department Director Rex Archer didn't agree with that assessment, but he is backing the ordinance. "Mass incarceration is one of the most significant threats to the public’s health of our times," he said in a memo to the mayor and city council.

Archer, however, did note the proposed change could lead to increased marijuana use. "Although this policy should reduce injustices in incarceration, an unfortunate, unintended byproduct may be that marijuana abuse will continue to grow in our youth population," the memo said.

The only opposition came from the Kansas City Police Department. Capt. Scott Simons said KCPD works in four different counties and that means four different prosecutors will handle cases. While Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker last year said she will stop prosecuting simple possession cases, the other prosecutors have no such policy.

Simons said that creates confusion for both police and citizens. He also said there is evidence that crime has increased in states that have approved medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

The marijuana ordinance was one of a package of criminal justice reform ordinances sponsored by Ellington.

In the end, the committee decided to wait another month before taking action.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.