Should City Revisit Marijuana Fines?

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By: 
Cameron Bren

Residents and members of a local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) appeared before city council to ask that the city once again revisit an ordinance relating to fines for cannabis possession. In an effort initiated by county executive Joe Parisi in 2015 to get municipalities to align with the county’s reduced fines for cannabis possession the city reduced its fines last year, however, the speakers say that the city is still out of alignment with the county and other municipalities such as Monona, Fitchburg and Madison.  

Shelley Kennedy is on the board of directors of Madison NORML says she’s working with the Middleton resident who brought this forward the last time, Casey Grady. She says when Grady pushed for change the city took the reins and did not make the change they hoped for.  

In April 2016 the city council approved an ordinance changing the fine structure for marijuana possession cutting the fines roughly in half, but also added paraphernalia fines.  

In May 2015 Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke addressed the committee of the whole (common council and plan commission) to discuss modifying city fines and forfeitures, eliminating or reducing cannabis possession fines, and changing policing trends and hiring practices as recommended by Parisi. The CoW referred the issue to the license and ordinance committee for review and recommendation of ordinance changes.

Nearly a year later the license and ordinance committee made a recommendation to change the ordinance from $175 for first offense, $375 for second offense, and $750 for a third offense to $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense, $300 for a third offense and $500 for the fourth and subsequent offenses. The ordinance also added the additional fees for paraphernalia equal to possession charges. Each offense includes additional court costs as well. Successful completion of alcohol and other drug abuse program can result in a fine reduction.

With the paraphernalia fine added the fines essentially increased rather than decreased.

Kennedy says she lives in Monona and was closely involved in the ordinance change made there. Monona eliminated all fines except for users under 21 and for smoking in public which is a $200 fine. 

“With out recent success in Monona we’re going back to Middleton asking them to review their ordinance again,” Kennedy said. “Basically what we are hoping for now is what happened in Monona.”

Kennedy says this ordinance change is something very personal for her.

“I have MS and I use cannabis medicinally and it was especially a big victory for me in Monona,” Kennedy said. “I feel like a lot less of a criminal now and I’m sure there are people in Middleton jus like me.”

Kennedy was joined by Grady at the city council meeting as well as Andy Van Duym, who said he uses it for medicinal purposes for pain relief, Max Love and Manney Rodriquez.

Following the public comment period alder JoAnna Richard made a motion to refer further review of the forfeitures of private cannabis use to the License and Ordinance Committee.  The motion passed unanimously by the council.

 

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