Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Resolution Cuts Pot Possession Fine to $1

Sup. Ortiz-Velez's county resolution will be mirrored by Glendale proposal, says Mayor Kennedy.

By - Feb 9th, 2021 07:34 pm
A joint. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

A joint. (Pixabay License).

Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez has introduced a resolution that would reduce the fine for marijuana possession to just $1.

Currently, the county fine for possession of marijuana up to 25 grams is $250 to $500. Because of state statutes, dropping  the fine to $1 is as far as Ortiz-Velez and her co-sponsors could go in the direction of decriminalization or legalization.

“This doesn’t fix all of our problems. We’re doing what we can with the tools that we have to make it better for people to have access and not be criminally charged and not face financial burdens,” she said at a press conference Tuesday.

Ortiz-Velez was joined by Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy and Eric Marsch, the southeastern Wisconsin executive director for NORML, an organization that advocates for the legalization of marijuana. Her resolution is co-sponsored by Supervisors Sequanna Taylor, Ryan Clancy, Steven Shea, Willie Johnson, Jr., Liz Sumner and board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson.

Last week Gov. Tony Evers released his biennial budget and it included a provision to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana.

In greatly reducing the penalties for marijuana possession, Ortiz-Velez is trying to address the unequal enforcement of existing marijuana laws — which she believes to be unjust in the first place as she supports legalization — and the opioid crisis.

Ortiz-Velez believes the effects of opioids have been devastating to communities in Milwaukee County, and that medical marijuana could become a less harmful substitute for the use of these narcotics to treat things like chronic or debilitating pain.

Her district is among the communities most ravaged by opioid abuse in the county. The South Side, specifically the 53215 zip code, had the most drug overdoses in the entire city last year.

“Too many people are suffering and too many people are dying because they don’t have access to the medicine that they need,” she said.

And when it comes to arrest and prosecution for marijuana possession, Ortiz-Velez pointed to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin which found the state’s Black residents were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white residents, despite having comparable rates of usage.

On top of that, the hundreds of dollars one has to pay after being cited for marijuana possession represents a financial burden that disproportionately affects Black residents because of the disparity in enforcement.

70% of voters in Milwaukee County indicated they favored marijuana legalization in a 2018 referendum.

“There’s actually a lot of people who support it who don’t use it, you’d be surprised,” Ortiz-Velez said.

Mayor Kennedy said he is going to introduce an ordinance in Glendale that would mirror the one that will be considered by the county board. Speaking at the press conference, he largely spoke in favor of statewide legalization.

“We really do need to legalize in the state of Wisconsin, and if we’re not gonna legalize, then we at the local level should be doing exactly as Supervisor Ortiz-Velez and her colleagues have done on the county board,” he said.

Regarding the role medicinal marijuana could have for Wisconsin residents, Kennedy said that marijuana “is far gentler on the body that these opioids are.”

Kennedy, along with Sup. John Weishan, Jr. who sponsored the legalization referendum in 2018, noted that Wisconsin has legal and regulated alcohol and tobacco products and argued that marijuana should be no different.

“What we are trying to do here is, take those steps to make people wake up, like they did in the 1930’s and say that prohibition is wrong and has more ill effects than making it legal and regulated and safe for public use,” he said.

In the resolution that would change the county ordinance, it’s noted that Wisconsin is among a minority of states that don’t have some form of legalized marijuana and is one of only 14 states that still has state statutes imposing jail time for “simple marijuana possession.”

Categories: Health, MKE County, Weekly

One thought on “MKE County: Resolution Cuts Pot Possession Fine to $1”

  1. Thomas Williams says:

    What’s the argument against this? The “gateway drug “ argument was put to rest long ago? Republican leadership has made this idea (legalization) an absolute non-starter with no counter arguments? At a minimum we should have medical marijuana!

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