The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution Thursday that will limit fines for possessing cannabis and drug paraphernalia to just $1, a big win for proponents of drug and criminal reform in Wisconsin.
The Judiciary, Safety and General Services committee approved the proposal 4-1 at a meeting last Thursday, sending it to a full board vote. Nine supervisors co-sponsor the resolution.
The proposal's sponsor, Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, announced the cannabis reform in early February. With the resolution gaining the board's approval, residents will no longer be fined more than a single buck for marijuana possession and possession and delivery of drug paraphernalia. That is, as long as the person is carrying 25 grams or less of cannabis.
Law enforcement will still be able to issue State of Wisconsin citations for possession of larger amounts. And those fined will still need to pay legal fees in court. An official with the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office said the resolution would not impact the office's operations, and deputies can still enforce the law.
"Our office's position has always been that 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," said Ted Chisholm, the chief of staff for Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.
Right now, if residents are caught with the items, they may face up to $500 in fines, and no less than $250.
The fiscal note attached to the resolution shows fewer than a quarter of 199 related fines owed from 2019 have been paid. Based on that data, Ortiz-Velez estimates the county would lose between $8,000 and $15,000 each year.
Following the proposal's passage in the board, Ortiz-Velez thanked her colleagues for their support.
“I am proud to be a part of Milwaukee County taking this bold step in reforming marijuana laws,” said Ortiz-Velez in a statement. “Wisconsinites made their desires clear in 2018 when they overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing marijuana. I encourage county leaders across Wisconsin to make similar changes to their own county ordinances until Wisconsin joins our neighbors across the Midwest in legalizing marijuana."
Supervisors Ryan Clancy, Steven Shea, Sequanna Taylor, Joseph J. Czarnezki, Willie Johnson Jr., Liz Sumner, Anthony Staskunas, Shawn Rolland and Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson co-sponsored the resolution.
A study by the Wisconsin ACLU finds Black Wisconsinites nearly four times more likely to be convicted of marijuana-related charges than White Wisconsinites, despite similar trends in usage.
State Representative David Bowen told TMJ4's Ryan Jenkins last month that police should be able to focus on bigger issues instead of being distracted by non-violent marijuana crimes in our communities.
A 2019 Marquette University Law Poll found that nearly 60% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of Marijuana.
Wisconsin's neighboring states, Illinois and Michigan both have legal recreational and medicinal cannabis. Minnesota has a medicinal marijuana program.