Green Bay Reforms Cannabis Possession Penalties

The Green Bay City Council passed an ordinance this week to revise the penalties for pot possession, dropping the fine for less than an ounce.
Green Bay

City leaders in Green Bay, Wisconsin on Tuesday passed an ordinance to reform the city’s penalties for cannabis possession and consumption. Under the proposal approved by the Green Bay City Council, the fine for possession of small amounts of cannabis will be dropped to $0, although those who receive a citation will still be responsible for paying court costs.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote by the city council, fines for marijuana possession in Green Bay were set at a maximum of $500 plus court costs. Under the new ordinance, adults caught possessing 28 grams or less of cannabis in a private or public space will be subject to a fine of $0, with court costs for the citation amounting to about $61. The measure defines a private space as “an area to which the public at large is not invited or permitted, or an area otherwise not accessible by the public, such as a private residence.”

Persons who are cited for consuming marijuana in a private space will also be subject to a fine of $0. Those caught using cannabis in a public area, however, will still face a fine of up to $500, as will those found to be possessing more than 28 grams of cannabis. The ordinance passed on Tuesday also brings penalties for possession of drug paraphernalia in line with the sanctions for marijuana possession. Offenders can also be sentenced to community service in lieu of fines for most offenses.

Green Bay’s new penalties for cannabis possession and consumption are similar to cannabis policy reforms taken by other local governments in Wisconsin. In Eau Claire and Milwaukee County, the fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana is only $1. In Madison, simple possession cases are not prosecuted except in cases where certain extenuating circumstances exist.

Penalties for Minors Also Amended

The ordinance passed by the Green Bay City Council this week also amends the law concerning underage possession of cannabis, bringing the penalties for such offenses in line with the punishment for alcohol possession by minors. Under the new policy, first offenses for underage possession of cannabis will carry a fine between $100 and $200 plus court costs. Subsequent offenses within one year’s time of the original will result in stiffer penalties.

Unlike Wisconsin state law governing alcohol, however, minors will not be permitted to use cannabis with their parents under Green Bay’s new ordinance. The city council approved an amendment proposed by City Council Member Bill Galvin, who noted that teenagers are currently permitted to drink alcohol with their parents.

“I want to make sure that we’re not saying kids can smoke dope with their parents,” Galvin said.

Cannabis reform advocates applauded the Green Bay City Council for their move to reduce penalties for cannabis offenses. Jay Selthofner with the Wisconsin Cannabis Activist Network said that he hopes the new ordinance will help further the conversation on cannabis reform.

“It’s very important that the local community members, the residents, constituents of Green Bay, reach out to these council members, thank them for the move that they’ve done, and push them to do more or continue with that cannabis conversation,” Selthofner said.

The new reforms may not result in fewer citations, however. Lt. Steve Mahoney of the Green Bay Police Department Community Police Division said that police officers will continue to determine when to issue tickets for cannabis possession or consumption.

“Our job as police officers is to enforce the law; our city council created the law and the ordinance, so in terms of our officers’ thought process, it’s going to remain the same,” Mahoney told local media. “We want them to have their discretion; if they believe the citation or ticket is warranted, by all means, issue it. And if they don’t then they won’t issue it.” 

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