Will Kansas City Decriminalize Weed? » YeahKC
Michael Sapenoff
via the Daily Dot

Will Kansas City Decriminalize Weed?

For many people, one of the few positives to come out of the November 8 elections was the fact that Massachusetts, Nevada, California, and Maine legalized weed. What better way to handle the impending Trump doom than with some recreational marijuana? With those legalization efforts, eight states and the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational marijuana. Now, NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, wants to start decriminalization efforts in Kansas City.

The group recently submitted 4,000 petition signatures asking the City Council to consider its proposal and put a decriminalization measure on the April ballot. The measure in question would make possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana a city ordinance violation instead of a criminal violation. The city ordinance violation would carry a fine of $25 instead of a serious charge that goes on someone’s permanent record. Instead of an effort to help hippies get their fix in Kansas City, the measure is a move to help limit the disastrous effects of the war on drugs, and help limit prison time for non-violent offenders.

The Kansas City measure comes at a crucial time for the United States. Just this week, Jeff Sessions was named the new Attorney General under President-elect Donald Trump. Sessions is the same man who said he was okay with the KKK “until I found out they smoke pot,” something all the more egregious when you discover that he said this to an African-American colleague.

As the new leader of the Justice Department, Sessions now has the power to force weed-friendly states to be compliant with federal laws, effectively undoing the progress made over the last four years. Because while several states have legalized weed, it’s still illegal on a federal level, which affects 100 percent of Americans, no matter what state they live in.

Sessions is the Senate’s most vocal opponent of ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, which, when combined with his obvious racism, makes for a dangerous combination when you consider the fact mandatory minimum sentences most often affect minorities, even though they do not use illicit drugs at higher rates than whites. Whatever your color, you shouldn’t be spending years, decades, or even life in prison for smoking weed.

So it’s as important as ever to continue the legalization fight. It’s high time we legalize weed, not only in Kansas City but nationally. And to continue the legalization efforts and progress, people need to get the facts straight.

In 2015, with legalization underway in several states, the overdose rate for marijuana users stayed at a big fat zero. Absolutely no one overdosed on weed. Compare that to the 25,760 who overdosed on legal prescription pain killers. Or the 30,700 who died from alcohol-induced causes. Those numbers are extremely high, especially compared to zero. And yet prescription pain killers are legal, and alcohol is readily available and extremely accessible. Marijuana on the other hand is still a Class I controlled substance according to the DEA.

But marijuana’s classification is alarming when you consider the fact that there’s no substantial link between marijuana and really anything negative like domestic violence, traffic accidents, cancers, or even general health concerns. Adults should be allowed to use a substance proven to be safe time and time again.

There are even some benefits to the use of marijuana.

First, there’s the economic benefit to states that have legalized recreational marijuana. In 2015, legal weed put about $2.5 billion into Colorado’s economy, while creating around 18,000 jobs and preventing people from being arrested — which uses taxpayer money. All of this despite federal prohibition of marijuana. The numbers would most likely be higher if states were able to allow marijuana businesses to operate without fear of federal regulations.

Next, for many people medical marijuana is a way to cope with severe illness or incurable disease. As someone with Crohn’s Disease, this is something I know all too well. But people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, glaucoma, and epilepsy have also found relief with medical marijuana. Its ability to help with nausea and chronic pain makes it an invaluable addition to many treatment plans.

So while you can still get all the pills and booze you want, marijuana remains illegal and comes with some nasty mandatory minimum sentences. And with some interesting folks taking on roles in Trump’s administration, it’s important to preserve the progress the United States has made since 2012.

For Kansas City, and really the rest of the country, legalization or decriminalization measures need to be carefully presented to conservatives to avoid a knee-jerk reaction from lawmakers that could cause a negative backlash. However, there is reason for hope. Missouri has started to move in the direction of decriminalization, with a state law taking effect on January 1 that eliminates the threat of jail for possession of up to 10 grams for first-time offenders.

The 4,000 signatures gathered by NORML are far and above the 1,708 required for petition initiatives in Kansas City. If the petition becomes certified by the city’s election boards, the council can move forward with the initiative on its own, or put it on the ballot in a local election. As it looks more and more likely the United States may move backwards in a few areas, it’s promising that 4,000 signatures can be gathered quickly in the name of progress — progress that ultimately seeks to undo damage caused by made-up concerns and a racist war on drugs.

Michael Sapenoff

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Michael Sapenoff is a writer and artist in Kansas City. As an illustrator, he's currently working on various comics, cartoons, and zines.