WICHITA -- A move to decriminalize marijuana in Wichita is not dead. The Wichita City Council voted 7-0 today to allow supporters of decriminalization to work with city legal staff to word a new petition. The issue could come up for a public vote in April, 2015.
A petition to put the issue on the November ballot fell short by 47 names. Petition organizers said they will keep working to get those names validated. They face a deadline of August 28th for the issue to come up for a potential public vote in November.
Council members heard from several speakers, including former gubernatorial candidate Jennifer Winn. Winn said 56 percent of the people incarcerated in Kansas are in for non-violent, victimless crimes. "It costs us $132 million every year. That is out of control," Winn said.
After the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, several groups are fighting to change cannabis laws in Kansas.
Members of Kansas for Change and the Peace and Social Justice Center plan to attend the Wichita City Council meeting Tuesday morning.
This past week, the groups submitted a petition to put a question to decriminalize marijuana on the November ballot. Esau Freeman, president of Kansas for Change, said the group filed a petition with 5,800 signatures. About 2,900 valid signatures are required to put the marijuana question on the city ballot. The group fell about 50 signatures short.
"I have some serious questions and doubt about whether people are appropriately registered or not," Freeman said. "Obviously we're winning public opinion and public opinion is that this needs to be on the ballot so that's exactly what we hope will happen."
Freeman said because of the popularity behind the topic, city leaders should move forward with giving voters a chance to decide.
The groups do plan to contest the signatures rejected. However, they are prepared to do anything to get the issue to move forward.
"We could start all over, but we have a group of names and addresses of people that we know support it that we could call on to help us do it again," said Janice Bradley, a member of the Peace and Social Justice Center.
Fire It Up Kansas will also attend Tuesday's city council meeting. Their group is hoping to push for a measure for a statewide legalization of marijuana.
"There's an entire industry that's been forced underground and it's not hurting anybody other than law that's prohibiting it," said Mike Golden, in an interview exclusively with KAKE.
Golden is the president of Fire It Up Kansas, and he said the group has gained much momentum in recent months. On Monday, the group will launch two new billboards in Wichita to support a move to legalizing marijuana.
If the voters gets a chance to decide if they want a 1 percent sales tax, they should be able to decide if they want to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, he said.
"Let's have an open discussion," echoed Golden's wife, Dianna. "Let's open up Topeka. We're ready. The people are asking for that open communication and let's get something going."