Bipartisan Legislation Would Cut Cannabis Possession Penalties In Certain Cities, But In Madison, Fines Would Be Raised

Cannabis Possession Penalties

A bipartisan bill seeking co-sponsors would establish statewide marijuana possession regulations in Wisconsin, that would cut penalties in some areas while increasing fines in others, such as Milwaukee and Madison.

R-Two Rivers, Rep. Shae Sortwell, and Sen. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, D-Milwaukee introduced the bill recently, which would require local governments to impose fines of USD 100 to USD 250, or 16 to 40 hours of community service, for possessing up to 14 grams of cannabis. Cities would have discretion in situations involving more than 14 grams of cannabis up to an ounce (28 grams), and anyone having more over an ounce of marijuana would face federal criminal charges.

Under current legislation, first-time possession of marijuana is punishable by a USD 1,000 fine and six months in prison, with local governments free to set their own punishments for minor amounts of the plant. A felony is charged for subsequent offences.

If implemented, the state-wide policy would override municipal laws like as one passed last year in Madison that instructs police not to pursue state criminal charges for possession of up to 28 gram of cannabis if the incident does not involve another crime. With a few caveats, Madison’s policy basically enables persons 18 and older to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and consume it on public or private property.

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Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, who proposed legislation to fully legalize marijuana in the state in August, said, “Our governments and the individuals in those societies have worked really hard to find a way to address the egregiousness of prohibition and come up with local solutions that honor what it is that the people in those communities are looking for. Moving that needle backwards makes me nervous.”

As a Milwaukee County supervisor earlier this year, Ortiz-Velez championed efforts to cut the penalty for possession of up to 25 grams of cannabis to USD 1. Ortiz-Velez said a regional standard avoids ambiguity over different regulations in different communities during a press conference.

“It’s more difficult if people are unclear about how the laws apply within patchworks,” Ortiz-Velez added. “We realize it’s worth trading, and that comes from someone who made USD 1 in Milwaukee County.”

Simultaneously, the plan would cut local possession fines in places like Green Bay, where a USD 500 fine is imposed for such a violation. According to the Forum’s research, maximum fines for possession in West Allis can exceed USD 1,000, while fines in Wauwatosa can reach USD 5,000.

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