Citizens Storm Mayor's Office After Kansas City Council Moves Ahead With Marijuana Decriminalization | KCUR

Citizens Storm Mayor's Office After Kansas City Council Moves Ahead With Marijuana Decriminalization

Oct 23, 2019

A Kansas City, Missouri, city council committee on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure that would wipe out a municipal violation for anyone caught with 35g or less of marijuana after 180 days.

What started as an ordinance sponsored by Third District Councilman Brandon Ellington to decriminalize up to 100 grams of marijuana was changed considerably and passed without a second public hearing, angering dozens of supporters who showed up to speak.

In 2017, Kansas City residents voted to reduce the fine for being caught with 35 grams or less of marijuana to $25 and eliminate the possibility of jail time.

Some city officials warned at the time that if someone paid the fine instead of fighting it in court, they would still end up with an offense on their record.

That could get in the way of getting a job, applying for housing, or getting a college scholarship.

“It’s still reported as a decriminalization of marijuana, but the fact of the matter is it’s not decriminalized. It’s still showing on people’s records. So I think one thing this committee can and should do is to correct that wrong,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus.

The amended measure that passed out of the finance, governance, and public safety committee Wednesday drops that city violation from a person’s record after 180 days. It will be up for a vote by the full city council next week.

Citizens protested councilwoman Katheryn Shields' decision not to allow public testimony on an array or ordinances sponsored by councilman Brandon Ellington.
Credit Avery Gott / KCUR 89.3

The committee's issue with that proposal to decriminalize 100 grams of marijuana was that because parts of Kansas City cross into Cass, Platte and Clay Counties, and prosecutors in those counties still intend to prosecute any marijuana possession under state law, that Kansas City residents could still be prosecuted in those parts of the city.

Jackson County, where most of Kansas City is located, decided in 2018 not to prosecute most marijuana possession cases.

Citizens Shut Out Of Public Testimony

While the ordinance is a step forward in decriminalizing marijuana possession, Ellington and his supporters left the meeting incensed that they hadn’t been allowed to testify. 

Committee chairwoman Katheryn Shields decided against public comments on the marijuana measure, as well as five other ordinances sponsored by Ellington before the meeting began.

“I’m appalled,” Elyshya Miller, one of Ellington’s supporters, said. “I’m angry as a taxpayer to be shushed, basically, and to see the blatant disrespect of the council for someone who is being a champion for every constituent in this city.”

When the measures were first introduced in September, people were given one minute to testify on the group of measures.

They were not permitted additional testimony Wednesday on the amended ordinances.

Joyce McGautha, another Ellington supporter, said Councilwoman Kathryn Shields, who leads the committee, is to blame for prohibiting public comment. She is now calling to remove the councilwoman from office.

“She just abruptly dismissed the meeting,” McGautha said. “That’s not quite what we were expecting, that’s not why the people came down here.”

Members of the council cannot be removed until after 6 months in office, which means McGautha has about four months to wait. Resident Esther Holzendorf said that it gives her time to rally the support necessary to recall Shields, which would require thousands of signatures.

“Kathryn Shields even said Ellington hadn’t been on the council long enough to make decisions,” Holzendorf said. “They’ve got a rude awakening coming.”

After the meeting, Ellington led a group of supporters first to Mayor Quinton Lucas’ office and then to the 25th floor of city hall to file ethics violations against members of the committee.

Lisa Rodriguez is the afternoon newscaster and covers Kansas City, Missouri, City Hall for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig

Avery Gott is the news intern at KCUR 89.3