A Milwaukee County proposal that would limit fines for possessing cannabis and drug paraphernalia to just $1 is now heading to a full vote in the county's Board of Supervisors, after it gained approval from committee Thursday.
The Judiciary, Safety and General Services committee approved the proposal 4-1 at a meeting Thursday afternoon. The proposal now heads to the board for a vote scheduled for March 25. Nine other supervisors co-sponsor the resolution.
The proposal's sponsor, Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, announced the cannabis reform in early February. If the proposal gets approval from the board, residents cannot 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.
"In doing so we support the achievement of racial equity, we support the reduction of opiate use, and remove the large financial burdens," Ortiz-Velez said.
"It is an illegal drug," said Supervisor Patti Logsdon. "I would say we need to just consider it an illegal drug and maybe have this come up again after marijuana is legalized by the state of Wisconsin."
Law enforcement would still be able to issue State of Wisconsin citations for possession of larger amounts. And those fined would still need to pay legal fees in court.
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.
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. Deputies can also issue state citations for larger amounts.
"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," Ted Chisholm said.
Following the proposal's passage in committee, Ortiz-Velez thanked her colleagues for their support.
"Their support means those who use marijuana for medicine are one step closer to not being harshly penalized in Milwaukee County and is another step towards achieving our vision of racial equity. I look forward to having the full County Board consider this resolution," Ortiz-Velez wrote in a statement Thursday.
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.