Wichita City Council votes to decriminalize marijuana, fentanyl test strips

State leaders vow action next session
The Wichita City Council has voted to decriminalize marijuana and now state leaders in the area have vowed action next session.
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 7:06 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Wichita City Council has voted to decriminalize marijuana and now state leaders in the area have vowed action next session.

The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 on Tuesday night, Sept. 13, to no longer prosecute marijuana cases which means that while the drug is not legalized, the decision to prosecute would move from the City to the District Attorney.

Specifically, the Council voted to exclude fentanyl testing strips and marijuana from the definition of “drug paraphernalia.”

“Wichitans have said for a long time that they want legal access to marijuana. Today’s ordinance decriminalizing possession is a meaningful first step. I hope this action will lead to the legislature passing a bill next session,” said Kansas House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita). “Last January, I introduced constitutional amendments alongside Assistant Democratic Leader Jason Probst allowing Kansans to vote on marijuana legalization. Despite statewide excitement, the Legislature declined to allow hearings, a debate, or a vote. Kansas remains one of four states with a full prohibition on marijuana.”

“I won’t stop advocating for legalization at the state level and I appreciate the leadership shown today by Mayor Brandon Whipple and the city council,” Sawyer noted. “As I celebrate this progress, I have Rep. Gail Finney in mind -- a key pillar in the marijuana legalization fight and honorable Wichita public servant.”

Assistant Democratic Leader Jason Probst (D-Hutchinson) said the move also directly confronts the deadly fentanyl flood.

“I am beyond happy that the City of Wichita had the courage to do what the Kansas legislature did not. By taking the lead to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, Wichita is directly confronting one of the biggest public health threats and largest causes of death among young people in Kansas,” Probst said. “Kansans of all ages and all socioeconomic backgrounds are being unwittingly poisoned by fentanyl. We read almost daily of another high school or college student whose life was cut tragically short. At least in Wichita, we can move toward a formal and concerted education effort that will save lives, and prevent immeasurable pain and suffering for families.”

“Next session, I plan to once again introduce legislation to decriminalize fentanyl testing strips statewide - and I hope the legislature will have the wherewithal to get past the political posturing and antiquated thinking to implement this common sense, life-saving policy that doesn’t cost the taxpayers one cent,” Probst concluded.

While the move does not legalize fentanyl test strips and marijuana in Wichita, the Sedgwick County Sheriff and District Attorney have both warned that it could actually put more people in jail.

DA Marc Bennett said he would need at least three more prosecutors and another judge to handle the influx of cases that used to be municipal. Meanwhile, Sheriff Jeff Easter said those caught with marijuana would now have to be carted to jail instead of given a ticket or court summons and released.

However, some councilmembers said, still, that the change in prosecution would reduce the number of those with drug convictions.