Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Proposal Ends Fines for Pot Possession

No fines for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for a first-time offense.

By - Mar 23rd, 2021 12:42 pm

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

A new proposal pending before the Common Council would eliminate any fines for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for a first-time offense.

It’s the latest of many proposals aimed at reducing or eliminating fines associated with marijuana and comes on the heels of many states legalizing marijuana altogether.

The city proposal, introduced by council members Marina Dimitrijevic and Khalif Rainey, would not decriminalize marijuana, but the maximum one could be fined for possession of up to one ounce would be $0.

“Study after study demonstrates the clear racial disparities that exist regarding marijuana convictions,” said Rainey in a press release announcing the results. “We must act now to reallocate our public safety resources elsewhere and invest in increased anti-violence and public health services. This is the first step in a long, overdue journey to repair and rebuild our city. Undoing historic injustice will release our economic potential to thrive.”

A new report from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office found that Black people are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession and 4.3 times more likely to be convicted. The rate of pot use is equal between the two races in Milwaukee County, data shows.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal at its Thursday meeting to lower the county’s first-time offense fine to $1 for possession of up to 25 grams (0.88 ounces). It would be in effect if an individual is arrested by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office or on county property.  The fine is currently between $250 and $500.

The city’s proposal would cast a wider net, given the far more widespread policing by the Milwaukee Police Department and the ordinance’s application anywhere in the city.

But it’s not the first time the Common Council has lowered the fine in the past decade.

In 2015, the city dropped the range for a first-time possession fine, cutting it from $250 to $500 down to $0 to $50. The exact fine is set by a municipal court judge. Subsequent offenses in Wisconsin, similar to operating while intoxicated violations, yield automatic state charges.

“If you’re not bothering your neighbor, and you are not a threat to your own safety or someone else’s, why should we have any tax-funded resources involved in that personal decision you just made?” said Alderman Nik Kovac, the measure’s lead sponsor. He said the proposal wouldn’t create a free for all and allow usage on public streets, but would allow people to use marijuana in their homes.

Neither Dimitrijevic nor Rainey were on the Common Council when it lowered the fine in 2015.

One ounce of marijuana could be used to produce between 30 to 100 joints.

Governor Tony Evers has a proposal in his budget to legalize marijuana. It is viewed as unlikely to pass.

“Governor Evers set forth a progressive plan on marijuana legalization in his proposed state budget, and as the largest city in the state, we can help lead the way on legalization of cannabis,” said Dimitrijevic.

In November, the City of Madison passed a similar ordinance to the one Dimitrijevic and Rainey have proposed.

A full version of the Milwaukee ordinance has yet to be introduced. It is expected to be first reviewed at the April 1st meeting of the Public Safety & Health Committee.

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