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Kansas Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Wichita Marijuana Ordinance

The Judicial Center, which houses the Kansas Supreme Court. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)
The Judicial Center, which houses the Kansas Supreme Court. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

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

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," says Beier.

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

The Kansas Supreme Court is now considering a challenge to a Wichita ordinance allowing for lighter penalties for marijuana possession. The justices heard arguments Thursday, and they had some sharp questions for both sides.

The Wichita ordinance allows a $50 fine and no jail time for fist-time possession charges. Under state law, someone could face up to a year in jail and up to a $2500 fine for the crime. The state argues the Wichita policy should be struck down because cities can’t create an ordinance that conflicts with state law.

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,” says Stegall.

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.

Stephen Koranda is KPR's Statehouse reporter.