Topeka City Council Considering Decriminalizing Domestic Violence. We’ve Got a Better Idea …

Oct 07, 2011

city council, courts, Dan Riffle, decriminalize, domestic violence, Kansas, marijuana, prosecution, public safety, Topeka

This is one of those stories that churns my stomach.

In early September, officials in Shawnee County, Kansas, announced that due to budget constraints, they would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases. This resulted in many domestic violence cases being dismissed without prosecution throughout the county. Also, a flood of such cases is being sent to the Topeka legal system instead.

Topeka is in just as dire economic straits as the county in which it resides. After determining that they could not afford to prosecute these cases either, the city council is now considering a series of proposals to cut expenses from the budget. One of those is removing the portion of the city code criminalizing domestic battery. Adding insult to injury, literally, they’ve chosen Domestic Violence Awareness Month to have this discussion.

Can’t these city council members think of something less vile, hurtful, and dangerous to both individuals and society than domestic abuse to decriminalize?

We have a suggestion:


Topeka City Council

215 SE 7th, Room 255

Topeka, KS 66603-3914

Re: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence


Dear Councilmembers,

It has come to my attention that the city of Topeka, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, is considering repealing that portion of the city code that bans domestic battery as a means of forcing county officials to prosecute this crime – something Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has apparently already stopped doing. In fact, since Taylor announced on September 8 that he would no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor cases in the City of Topeka, 30 domestic battery cases have not been pursued, and three alleged domestic violence offenders have been released – their cases put on hold – until the dispute over who will pay for prosecution of such cases has been resolved.

I write to offer a potential solution to this standoff: decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana possession instead. Many other governments, state and local, are facing similar budget deficiencies and are increasingly turning to marijuana decriminalization as a partial solution. In fact, just this year the Connecticut Legislature passed a measure decriminalizing possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana. In 2008, 65% of Massachusetts’ voters approved a similar measure, and ten other states – including neighboring Colorado and Nebraska – have also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Marijuana decriminalization is also an increasingly popular solution at the municipal level. Columbia, Missouri, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and even your in-state neighbor, Lawrence, Kansas are among the many municipalities that have made possession of marijuana a civil, fineable offense with no possibility of jail time.

Not only would decriminalizing marijuana free up funds, but Topeka police, who would otherwise be tied up booking and processing non-violent marijuana users, could instead simply write a ticket and return to protecting the community from real threats to public safety, like domestic abusers. The same goes for judges, prosecutors, and district attorneys, like Mr. Taylor, should Shawnee County consider a similar move.

As our recession recovery continues, all across the country cities and counties are being forced to make decisions, many of them very difficult, about what services they can afford to provide. This decision, however, should be an easy one. People who choose to use marijuana instead of more dangerous drugs like alcohol are not public safety threats. On the other hand, those who would abuse their own loved ones are among the greatest threats to public safety in any community. Battered spouses should not be left defenseless in the name of enforcing misguided marijuana laws. Will you please consider this sensible alternative? I look forward to your reply.


Dan Riffle

Legislative Analyst

Marijuana Policy Project

Hopefully, the Topeka City Council will listen to reason and at least seriously consider this option. After all, even staunch drug warriors have a hard time explaining how simply decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana can actually hurt anybody. In Massachusetts, where possession of less than an ounce is now treated as a civil infraction, law enforcement is recognizing that there have been no noticeable negative consequences to such a policy.

I’m pretty sure that everyone can agree domestic violence is much more harmful. Except, perhaps, the abusive scum that will walk if the city council moves ahead as planned.

We’ll let you know if they respond.


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