How Jackson, Clay and Platte counties differ on marijuana possession in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas brought together the top prosecutors from Jackson, Platte and Clay counties after weeks of back-and-forth between the offices.

One point of conflict? Drug charges — or lack of them.

Three years, following the overwhelming approval of medical marijuana in Missouri, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said she would no longer prosecute most marijuana possession cases saying she wants police to pursue more serious crimes.

But Kansas City is not just in Jackson County, meaning crossing county borders means variability in charges and punishments.

A drive over the Buck O’Neil Bridge means people illegally possessing cannabis are raising the stakes whether they are headed toward Platte County or into Clay County.

For a refresher, marijuana is illegal at the federal level. However, Missouri has legal medical marijuana.

Regardless, Kansas City has removed punishments for cannabis possession from city code. But state law still bans possession without a medical card.

Enter Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd who explains how marijuana possession can still lead to an arrest in parts of Kansas City that aren’t in Jackson County.

“What police and prosecutors shouldn’t do is refuse, in my opinion, to enforce entire classes of crimes,” Zahnd said during a presentation to the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners on Aug. 31.

Hinting it would be a part of the discussion, Lucas tweeted Monday: “I am looking forward to bringing together the prosecutors of Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties this morning to discuss public safety in Kansas City. We all are committed to working toward a safer Kansas City.”

While there have been no details on any compromise, Platte and Clay county prosecutors have said they won’t stop charging people with drug crimes until drug laws change.

“Doing away with drug cases is not, in my opinion, going to do away with the other crimes associated with drug addiction,” Daniel White, Clay County prosecutor, said during the same Aug. 31 police board meeting.

“But for non-medical purposes, marijuana and other narcotics remain illegal. And my oath I believe requires me to prosecute those cases,” Zahnd said.

“I couldn’t have said it any better,” White responded.

Although charges for marijuana continue to be given in Platte and Clay counties, drug-related charges almost never go to court. Over the past year, according to White and Zahnd, the vast majority of drug cases resulted in guilty pleas, not trials.

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