South KC Perspective
Question 5: Marijuana Possession
By John Sharp
Question 5 would lower the fine in Municipal Court for possession or control of 35 grams or less of marijuana to a maximum of $25, eliminate jail as a potential punishment in Municipal Court for possession or control of marijuana, and remove marijuana from the city’s prohibition against drug paraphernalia.
This proposal also was put on the ballot by an initiative petition drive organized by NORML KC, the regional chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws which seeks to repeal laws against marijuana at all levels while promoting its responsible use by adults.
Some groups and individuals supporting this measure claim it decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. It does not! It only decreases the possible penalties, which City Prosecutor Lowell Gard told the March 13 SKCA meeting are a maximum $500 fine and six months in jail.
However, by eliminating the possibility of jail time, indigent defendants will no longer be entitled to free legal representation in Municipal Court.
Faced with likely having to pay several hundred dollars or more to retain an attorney, plus hundreds more for the cost of a diversion program, many indigent defendants may choose to simply plead guilty, pay the $25 fine and court costs and think they got a good deal. It wouldn’t be!
“This may not make it look like a big deal, but it’s a conviction,” City Prosecutor Lowell Gard said. “You walk out of there carrying a conviction on your record forever.”
Gard said now virtually all of the approximately 1,000 persons who face marijuana possession charges annually in Municipal Court are handled through suspended imposition of sentences and court-ordered diversion programs, so that defendants who comply with program requirements have their cases dismissed with no record.