Bill could release prisoners convicted of marijuana possession


TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Marijuana laws could be changing in Kansas. While lawmakers may not be looking to legalize the drug quite yet, some are looking to reduce penalties for those caught with it.

The proposed bill would remove the felony violation charge for those convicted of possession of marijuana. The bill would also release the people currently imprisoned only on possession of marijuana charges. These changes only apply to possession of marijuana charges, not possession with intent to distribute charges.

Currently in Kansas, if a person is charged with possession of marijuana three times, they can be charged with a Level 5 Felony. The penalty for this felony could be up to 3 and a half years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine. The proposed bill would change that, making the highest charge for possession of marijuana a Class A Misdemeanor, regardless of the number of times a person is found with it. The penalty for the misdemeanor is up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Representative Boog Highberger introduced the bill on behalf of the Kansas ACLU. He believes the bill is a first step towards criminal justice reform for drug charges.

“Prison isn’t the place for people with drug convictions. Treatment may be necessary in some cases but imprisonment is really not doing anybody any good,” said Highberger.

It is estimated that less than 10 prisoners would be released as a result of this bill, and sentencing for less than 200 others would be reduced. Opponents of the bill say releasing people from prison creates logistical problems. For example, if a person was initially charged with a serious offense but took a plea deal and was then only charged with possession of marijuana, would they also be released under this bill? At this time, it’s difficult to say.

Ed Klump testified against the bill on behalf of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriff’s Association, and the Kansas Peace Officers Association. He says even if someone is charged with possession of marijuana three times, they may not go to prison, it depends on their past record. He also says releasing people from prison could cause issues for the prisoner.

“That has a lot of problems. That could interfere with treatment programs that have been set up for them and other things that are being done to help them along their path,” said Klump.

Testimony was heard on the bill Wednesday. Lawmakers on the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee plan to take action on the bill on Monday.

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