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Missouri legalized weed last year, yet Kansas saw little increase in drug arrests

Updated: Feb 28

There is no single reason for the drop in arrests, but multiple agencies are showing a drop or plateau in weed charges.

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More than 1 million Kansans live within an hour’s drive of Missouri and its dispensaries selling legal cannabis at seemingly every strip mall.

Yet even with that new, easy access to legal weed, fewer people face arrest in Kansas on marijuana charges. Prosecutors and police remain obliged to enforce the state’s prohibition on cannabis — Kansas is one of only 11 states that outlaw marijuana even for medical purposes — but generally make it less of a priority.

So, while statistics are still taking shape in a state bordered by three states where medical and recreational sales are legal, arrests on cannabis charges and seizures of illegal weed appear on the decline or at least flattening out.

Missouri’s first legal sale of cannabis came in early February 2023. Kansas residents could immediately drive over and buy it legally, but risked arrest and prosecution if they brought their joints or gummies across the state line.

The Beacon asked law enforcement agencies in eastern Kansas for arrest data from 2022 and 2023. Statewide data on arrests isn’t complete. 

Kansas Bureau of Investigation arrest records don’t track arrests by type of drug, and the agency doesn’t have complete numbers yet for 2023. The Kansas Highway Patrol also said getting statistics on every drug arrest would take time, but data on major seizures of weed showed a slight drop in 2023. 

Here’s how some departments compare. 

  • The Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department arrested 186 people for weed in 2022. That number jumped to 241 in 2023. That spike is mostly due to an uptick in July arrests. The amount of weed seized dropped from 108 pounds to 22 pounds. 

  • Overland Park police went from 189 arrests for selling and using in 2022 down to 166 arrests in 2023. 

  • The Pittsburg Police Department had 35 arrests for 2022 but only 18 in 2023. Seizures jumped from 2,541 grams to 6,686 grams — again due to one month of large seizures. 

  • Leavenworth police cited 23 people for weed in 2022 and 28 people in 2023. 

  • The Kansas Highway Patrol said it has 76 significant marijuana seizures in 2022 and 68 significant seizures in 2023. That would mean a seizure with more than one pound of weed and likely doesn’t include arrests for simple possession, but getting data on every arrest is hard, the agency said. 

The plateau in arrests signals a welcome shift to advocates who say over-policing cannabis only causes problems and is especially problematic for minority communities. The highway patrol lost a lawsuit just last year about an unconstitutional police practice it used to search drivers for weed. 

No single factor explains the uneven trend in weed arrests. One agency said it just cites, rather than arrests, people for possession. Another agency said it was short on staff and cannabis wasn’t its biggest priority. Officers and prosecutors offices said they weren’t ignoring the issue, but some only pursue drug charges if other criminal charges are associated with a case. 

“We have to have probable cause,” Overland Park police spokesperson John Lacy told Fox 4 in Kansas City last year. “In other words, they have to be speeding. They have to make an illegal lane change, things of that sort.”

Lacy said his agency cared more about serious felonies.The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office was one of the few agencies that had a public policy on weed. The policy said the DA’s office isn’t interested in prosecuting weed charges. 

Suzanne Valdez, the Douglas County district attorney, said she inherited a policy that’s been around for a decade and saw no reason to change it. 

Her office still goes after drug dealers selling hard drugs, but she said stomping out users is a waste of prosecutors’ already limited time and resources. 

Prosecuting a single case for possession isn’t quick. It requires lab testing at the KBI. That agency is testing sexual assault kits and evidence in murder cases. A marijuana sample could get lost in the shuffle. 

“Marijuana possession? Nope, we’re just not doing it,” Valdez said. “Our law enforcement partners have pretty much accepted that.”Wichita decriminalized weed in 2022. Medical marijuana or legal cannabis is murkier at a statewide level. 

A bill in the Kansas Statehouse now would change how drugs are criminally categorized. That effort joined multiple attempts by state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana that have stalled in recent years. 

Supporters of the change say the public clearly supports legal weed — just look at all the Kansas plates at Missouri dispensaries. The 2023 Kansas Speaks survey found that 67% of Kansas residents support recreational weed, with 12% neutral on the idea, 17% opposed and 4% undecided. 

But the political battle will continue. 

“We’ve tackled this topic before and we’ll tackle it again,” said Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican. 

The Republican-controlled Kansas House has passed out measures to legalize medical weed, but the Republican-controlled Kansas Senate has blocked that. 

“They are getting closer,” Hawkins said. “We’ll have our chance.”


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