While Kansas City voted last week to eliminate the penalties associated with small time pot possession — putting this offense in the same classification as the average traffic ticket — the new ordinance has not exactly created a free-for-all with respect to the cannabis plant. In fact, there are still plenty of ways for the average citizen to get jammed up in the criminal justice.
Here are a few things you should about the new law and what it means overall for those people popped for pot possession.
First of all, the ordinance does not legalize marijuana in any way. The initiative that was approved last Tuesday by a majority of the voters simply forces the Kansas City Police Department to issue a $25 ticket to anyone caught in possession of up to 35 grams of pot. However, those people busted for this offense will still be required to appear in court, perhaps even running the risk of being slapped with a drug conviction.
Secondly, even though the new ordinance, which took effect last Wednesday, only looks to penalize petty pot offenders to the tune of $25, some of these folks will also be made to cough up an additional $48.50 for court cost. Depending on the circumstances, some pot cases could be dealt with in other counties, bringing about the possibility for higher penalties.
City Prosecutor Linda Miller told the Kansas City Star that there might be an “unintended consequence” for those offenders who opt to pay the $25 fine as opposed to having a lawyer plead their case. Since jail time is no longer an option for this offense, indigent defendants are no longer offered a public defender to assist them in a plea arrangement. This could cause some defendants to simply accept the conviction without understanding that even a minor drug-related blemish on their record could prevent them from qualifying for opportunities pertaining to education and employment.
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What’s more is Legal Aid services are no longer available to those who violate the city’s pot laws. The local chapter of NORML, which is responsible for putting the decriminalization initiative on the ballot in last week’s special election, says it is currently working to assemble a team of pro-bono attorneys willing to go to bat for pot offenders unable to hire legal counsel on their own. However, it could be months before any sort of program is in place.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Kansas City’s new decriminalization ordinance is it changes absolutely nothing for those folks who get tangled up with Missouri State Police. These officers will continue to lean on state law, which makes possession of up to 35 grams a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in jail and fines reaching $2,000.
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