New bill would lower marijuana possession fines statewide, but increase penalties in Milwaukee

NOW: New bill would lower marijuana possession fines statewide, but increase penalties in Milwaukee

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- There's a new bipartisan effort to lower marijuana possession fines across the state, but under the proposal fines would also increase in places like Milwaukee.

The bill was introduced by State Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), and Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) would set a statewide marijuana possession fine for people caught with small amounts of cannabis.

However, the bill gets complicated depending where you light up and how much marijuana is in your possession.

Under the bill, if caught with 14 grams or less you would face a $100 marijuana ticket in Wisconsin. If you have more than 14 grams, local marijuana ordinances would apply. That means in some communities' fines would be less, but more expensive in others.

The proposal would basically replace local ordinances like Milwaukee County's that doesn't criminally charge someone for having 25 grams or less and fines them $1 plus court fees.

If someone is caught on Milwaukee County property with 14 grams or less they would face a $100 fine under the bill. On the other hand, if you're caught with 14.1 to 25 grams of marijuana in Milwaukee, you technically would face a reduced fine according to the proposal.

Ortiz-Velez led the effort to significantly reduce marijuana fines in Milwaukee County when serving on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. She said while the bill would increase marijuana fees, she overall believes the proposal would reduce confusion over what laws apply where.

"Part of the problem is when people leave Milwaukee and are in another county, they don't really know which rule applies to them," said Ortiz-Velez. "We can get rid of that patchwork at the local ordinances in different areas so we can set a standard across the state."

Marijuana fines vary among some of the largest cities in Wisconsin. In Green Bay, people can face up to $500 for marijuana possession, but in Madison it's $0 to possess 28 grams -- slightly less than an ounce.

Rep. Sortwell said the goal of the proposal is to set a standard fine to help reduce the number of people charged with felony charges if they have small amounts of marijuana.

"Some sheriffs right now have fines in their county at $500, well this bill would not allow that to happen so it's creating an equal standard across the state."

Some Democrats are not supportive of the measure calling it problematic because it would increase fines in their district.

Senators Kelda Roys and Melissa Agard of Madison both said they would vote against the bill if it makes its way through the legislature.

"To increase penalties, to say you're not going to pay $1, you're going to pay a $100 minimum even if you have a tiny amount of marijuana -- it would be pretty hard for me to vote to increase fines on my own constituents," said Roys.

Senator Agard, who's championed legislation to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, said the bill doesn't go far enough and would negatively impact the work already done to decriminalize marijuana at the local level.

"This bill does not honor the earnest work that local governments and municipalities have already done to address this issue," Agard said. "Local officials have worked with their local partners and we should respect the hard work they have done."

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