Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Board Changes Pot Possession Fine to $1

Under state law county can't fully decriminalize.

By - Mar 26th, 2021 04:49 pm
A joint. Pixabay License Free for commercial use No attribution required

A joint. (Pixabay License).

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Thursday that reduces the fine for marijuana possession up to 25 grams to $1.

The resolution was introduced in February by Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez with several of her colleagues on the board as co-sponsors, along with the support of the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy.

If you are convicted of marijuana possession on county property after being arrested or cited by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, the current penalty is a $250 to $500 fine. Under the new ordinance, once signed by County Executive David Crowley, a resident will have to pay the $1 fine plus the state-imposed court costs which are more than $100.

Ted Chisholm, chief of staff to Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, discussed the legislation when it went before the Judiciary, Safety and General Services Committee in early March, telling the supervisors that the sheriff’s office did not have a “formal position.” But Chisholm did say, “We do not oppose efforts to decriminalize marijuana and reduce penalties so as to alleviate the disparate impact that enforcement has historically had from a perspective of racial inequity.”

In 2019, the sheriff’s office issued 257 citations for marijuana possession in 2019.

The ordinance change was passed by the board 16 to 1. Sup. Patti Logsdon was the only one to vote against it.

At committee Logsdon proffered an amendment that would have only changed the fine to $1 for medical marijuana, which would have rendered the ordinance useless as the state does not have medical marijuana.

Logsdon maintains that she doesn’t think the county should reduce its penalties for marijuana possession, something state statutes allow for, because the drug is still illegal. During the board meeting Thursday she also said that she thinks reducing the penalty would harm the county’s Black residents, hurting the county’s chance of achieving its stated racial equity goals, by encouraging marijuana use and hurting their job prospects because of the potential for drug tests.

Besides her feeling that marijuana should be fully legalized, and this ordinance being the furthest the county can go in that direction under state law, Ortiz-Velez has repeatedly said a driving factor in her support of decriminalization is the racially disparate criminal justice outcomes for marijuana possession.

Reports by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office affirm that Black people in the state are more likely than white people to be arrested and convicted on charges of marijuana possession.

This ordinance is part of a rising tide of legislative efforts to change marijuana laws in Wisconsin at the state and local level.

The City of Madison has already decriminalized marijuana up to 28 grams, and the City of Milwaukee is following suit with a similar proposal introduced this month. And Governor Tony Evers included a provision in his biennial state budget that would legalize recreational and medical marijuana — should it survive the Legislature.

Each of these law changes have and would go further than Orrtiz-Velez could with her county ordinance. 

“This doesn’t fix all of our problems,” she said in February when she announced her resolution. “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.”

Categories: MKE County, Weekly

2 thoughts on “MKE County: Board Changes Pot Possession Fine to $1”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    The fact that Milwaukee County is reducing the marijuana fine to $1 while at the same time prioritizing mental health care funding is perplexing. This may be a satisfying victory in the short-term, but I worry about the long-term consequences on health for individuals and our county.

  2. SiddyMonty says:

    Isn’t it going to cost more to DO than the fine IS? But more importantly, is it Logsdon’s perception or a reality that it would harm our black neighbors more…don’t get this at all.

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