On Feb. 12 during the State of the City address, Mayor Quinton Lucas stated he is going to begin pardoning people with Kansas City municipal marijuana violations.
Mayor Lucas’ pardoning abilities are limited to municipal violations only and these pardons will not apply to those who have a state or federal charge.
A pardon will not remove a conviction from a person’s record.
According to KCMO.gov under the marijuana pardon offense instructions and guidelines page, “A Mayoral pardon does not have the same legal effect as an expungement. Pardons do not remove a conviction from your criminal record, yet they do provide executive forgiveness for the offense.”
The number of people who will file for these pardons is unknown and how much this will affect the lives of the pardoned is also hard to know.
“To me, [the Mayor’s ordinance] was a feel-good vote,” said Third District at Large Councilman Brandon Ellington. “So, you get a whole bunch of people that [support] it, which looked like its erasing something. To me, it’s the same stance as being tough on crime, but not smart on crime.”
Ellington said that even though he supports Mayor Lucas, more can be done about marijuana convictions.
“It does little to [nothing],” said Ellington. “That and the very realistic possibility that people aren’t going to understand and they’re going to think that they have something that they don’t. So those are my two concerns; one, that it does little to nothing and two, you’re going to have people thinking that they can erase their records and they can’t do it under these conditions if it’s anything beyond municipal.”
Ellington said that he prefers more extreme measures, such as decriminalization of marijuana use.
In October 2019, Ellington proposed an ordinance that decriminalized marijuana possession under 100 grams but decided to kill his own bill after the council amended it.
“The ordinance that I had would have decriminalized 100 grams or less,” said Ellington. “The council had amended that to 32 grams… [and] where you could get your record expunged. The problem with that is that it creates… a state violation and a record with the courts. So, I killed that bill on the floor, but I do plan on revising it…”
Fourth District Councilman Eric Bunch said these pardons could help prevent people from going down a bad path.
“By pardoning them and saying, ‘we’re done, you’ve paid your debt,’ then we get them off that path that could lead to state or federal offenses down the road,” he said. “And that’s the case with any ordinance violation. So, I think this has the power to change people’s lives and divert them from maybe a bad path to a good one.”
Bunch said that the city should do anything in their power to stop marijuana convictions from being life-altering.
“Going forward we’re on the right path, but this is going back and saying, ‘let’s take care of these folks who have been convicted in the past,’” he said.
Bunch said the city is moving in a good direction, but the city should focus more on public health, which he sees as a contributor to crime.
“I think we need to do more with public health and treat mental health as part of public health, because a lot of what happens in the city, and I think a lot of what drives crime, is being exposed to trauma from a young age,” said Bunch. “So greater investment in public health… and trauma-informed care, in particular, is the best way to divert people from that path at a very early age.”
Third District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said it’s important for the city to begin to reduce the burden of people who have convictions of the municipal level, especially since those convicted at the municipal level could buy that same amount of marijuana through the medical avenue.
“I don’t have a lot of judgments about whether or not the law should be on the books still from a municipal standpoint, but I do feel like it’s often times those convictions are barriers to jobs, employment, housing; and this is a step in the right direction to make sure that we are in alignment with the state law, as in regards to laws of medical marijuana,” she said.
Kansas City Police Department Center Patrol Major Ryan Mills said he doesn’t think that the pardons will have much of an effect on the way the department does its job.
“I think as far as the police department is concerned, I don’t think we will change the way we do business,” said Mills. “I think that the same laws are still in place today as will be in place after this, unless the laws change, I don’t think we’ll do anything different.”
“My perspective is that I’m going to do the job that I said I was going to do when I got hired 21 years ago and that is to enforce the ordinances that are there and work to keep the community a safer place. And that’s really the best part I can do,” said Mills.
Only the State of Missouri has the ability to legalize marijuana across the board. The State of Missouri is also the only body that is able to retroactively expunge the convictions of people who have marijuana offenses at the state level.
Currently, the State of Missouri law says possession of 10 grams or less is a misdemeanor charge, 10-35 grams is a Class A misdemeanor and 35 grams – 30 kilograms is a Class C felony.
Decriminalizing marijuana inside the City of Kansas City would mean that KCPD would no longer arrest people for marijuana possession.
“If the city says it decriminalizes something that means there’s no enforcement around whatever you decriminalized,” said Ellington. “So, there can’t be an arrest, it will not get sent to the state.”
Before becoming a Kansas City Councilmember, Ellington had served in the Missouri State congress and had sponsored a 2017 bill to legalize marijuana for people over the age of 21.
Councilman Bunch said he is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana at the state level.
“To be completely honest, and I think I’ve said this publicly before, I’m open to recreational being legal in the state of Missouri,” said Bunch. “That’s something that we as a city can’t really do, but I think that the data is clear that it’s good for the economy, look at the state of Colorado and how much it’s benefited them… Why do we treat something like marijuana, that has stated, proven medical benefits, why do we treat it so much differently than we treat things like alcohol?”