Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors proposes lowering marijuana possession fine to $1

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – A proposal by a group of Milwaukee County Board supervisors would lower the fine for marijuana possession from hundreds of dollars down to just $1.

“There’s much more work that needs to be done and we’re not going to forget that,” Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez told reporters at a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 9. “But this is just one step and something we can do today.”

The proposal would apply to people in possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana. Currently, the county ordinance says people may not be fined “less than $250.00 nor no more than $500.00.”

Ortiz-Velez and other supporters believe the proposal helps address racial, health and economic disparities in the county.

“In doing so, we support the achievement of racial equity, we support the reduction of opiate use and we remove the large financial burdens for many people.”

The resolution highlights an ACLU report that found Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though both groups use the drug at similar rates.

Last fall, the Rock County Board of Supervisors passed a similar ordinance.

The effort was led by District 16 Supervisor Jacob Taylor. Taylor said he was proud of passing the legislation but noted it is just one component of how marijuana laws affect people.

“There’s a lot more to the penalty of marijuana possession than just the fine,” Taylor said in an interview. “It’s one element, it’s a big element and it’s an element that targets poorer members of the community.”

Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson echoed that sentiment and emphasized marijuana possession fines still include required court fees and a criminal record, just as it would in Milwaukee County.

“It shouldn’t be perceived as being a free pass, it isn’t like someone can just carry dollar bills in your pocket,” Sheriff Knudson told CBS 58. “I think you have to recognize that there will be what still feels like a pretty significant fine associated with possession of marijuana.”

Legal experts said this proposal may be beneficial in drawing attention to marijuana law reform, but beyond the financial impact, it does little to lessen the legal impact.

“It has a disparate impact on a certain segments of the community and certainly in particular those who are less fortunate financially, so I suppose on one level that’s a good thing,” Jonathan Smith, an attorney and partner at Kohn Smith Roth, said in an interview. “But it’s not this great opportunity for people to do whatever they want because it will create a record and it’s a record that remains.”

The proposal will be taken up by a county committee on March 11 with the full board potentially voting on it on March 25.

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