- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wichita voters will get to vote on easing marijuana penalties for first-time offenders, but what will happen to the measure even if it passes remains unclear because state law still makes pot possession illegal.

The Wichita City Council agreed 6-1 on Tuesday to place the measure to amend the city’s ordinance on the April 7 ballot after receiving a petition for it containing thousands of signatures.

The proposal makes first-offense marijuana possession a criminal infraction with a $50 fine. It would be enforced with a summons or citation rather than an arrest. A conviction could be expunged after 12 months if the offender stays out of legal trouble. It would also apply only to those 21 or older carrying 32 grams or less of marijuana. Those under 21 would be covered under existing law.

The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1yZHoCW) that current state law makes possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia criminal offenses. If convicted, a person faces a fine of up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail.

Council members have said they would not support spending money on a legal fight with the state over the issue if it passes and is challenged by the state.

“This could give the state the opportunity to see how Wichita voters feel on this issue,” said council member Janet Miller.

The city council is following procedures for a petition process. The state, however, will almost certainly take legal action to nullify the city ordinance if the measure passes, she added.

“But the state statute is unclear, fuzzy, about what to do if there’s an ordinance that is petitioned that is in conflict with state statute,” Miller said.

Council members have received several calls from state lawmakers who did not want to see the issue on the ballot, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said.

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