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An effort to decriminalize weed in one of America’s most conservative cities isn’t quite dead yet, but backers face an uphill struggle to get their proposal on the ballot in the fall.

Wichita SkylineGroups that support marijuana reform in Wichita, Kansas, gathered at a meeting where the Wichita City Council voted 7-0 to let supporters get help from the city’s legal staff in writing a new petition.

The original petition managed to gather almost enough voter signatures to put it on the ballot in November. But on their first try, supporters fell 47 short of the 2,900 signatures needed. Now the groups have until Aug. 28 to pick up the valid signatures they need to get the issue on the ballot.

Wichita is hardly the obvious choice for local cannabis reform, but if it works there, it could mark a minor watershed for the future of dope in deep-red states. Even in those places, it would seem, legalization advocates are digging in and preparing for fights.

And even if they lose those fights, they will have laid the groundwork and tactics of future battles. Eventually, places like Kansas, Wyoming, and Texas will allow legal recreational weed. It’s just a matter of time, however long that may be.

In Wichita, there is clearly genuine local support for decriminalization. How strong that support remains is unclear, so it’s far too earlier to judge the odds of success.

At the recent city council meeting, several people spoke in favor of reform, including a former gubernatorial candidate, Jennifer Winn. She said the state has dropped the reins on its law enforcement system, with 56 percent of prisoners doing time for victimless non-violent crimes.

“It costs us $132 million a year,” Winn said. “This is out of control.”

The groups pushing for decriminalization in Wichita include Kansas for Change and the Peace and Social Justice Center. Members of both attended the council meeting.

Those activists turned in a petition earlier in August with 5,800 voter signatures. Elections officials invalidated about 2,900 of those signatures, leaving the groups just 47 signatures short.

Marijuana Vote“I have some serious questions and doubt about whether [voters] are appropriately registered or not,” said Esau Freeman, president of Kansas for Change. “Obviously we’re winning public opinion, and public opinion is that this needs to be on the ballot, so that’s exactly what we hope will happen.”

Freeman said the groups plan to challenge the invalidated signatures, but he said they’re putting their real energy behind the effort to collect new signatures before the end of August.

“We could start all over,” said Janice Bradley of the Peace and Social Justice Center. “But we have a group of names and addresses of people that we know support it that we could call on to help us do it again.”

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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