Proposed Bill Aims to Raise Fines for Cannabis Possession in Wisconsin

Wisconsin is going the opposite direction of most states and attempting to raise the fine for cannabis possession.

A bill proposed by a bipartisan pair of Wisconsin lawmakers could result in a spike in fines for marijuana possession in some of the state’s most populous and diverse cities.

The legislation seeks to “set fines statewide to no less than $100 for possessing 14 grams or less of marijuana and no more than $250,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, which would require “many communities like Green Bay to lower minimum fines for the misdemeanor.”

That could carry significant implications on communities such as Milwaukee, by far the largest city in Wisconsin as well as its most diverse, where, as the Journal Sentinel noted, “fines for marijuana possession of 28 grams or less are currently $1.” 

The proposed bill “would increase fines for having 14 grams or less to $100 but allow county officials to keep fines $1 for convictions for more than 14 grams,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

“Under current law, a person convicted of possessing marijuana may face up to $1,000 in fines and up to six months in prison on the first offense,” the newspaper said. “On subsequent offenses, the crime becomes a felony.”

Unlike in neighboring Great Lakes states Illinois and Michigan, recreational pot use remains illegal in Wisconsin. For years, Badger State lawmakers have proposed variations of legalization bills, all of which have gone up in smoke. There are signs, however, that change could be on the horizon.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, announced that his budget proposal for the years 2021 to 2023 seeks to “[regulate and tax] marijuana much like we do alcohol.”

“States across the country have moved forward with legalization, and there’s no reason Wisconsin should be left behind,” Evers said in a statement at the time, adding that regulating and taxing pot like alcohol “ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state.”

For now, legalization advocates in Wisconsin will have to grapple with the bill aimed at standardizing marijuana fines throughout the state.

The legislation was proposed by state House Representative Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, a Democrat, and state House Representative Shae Sortwell, a Republican, who detailed the bill at a news conference on Tuesday at the statehouse in Madison.

“Part of the problem is people in Milwaukee, if they leave the county and they’re in another county… they don’t really know that the rule only applies to this county,” said Ortez-Velez, who represents Milwaukee, as quoted by the Journal Sentinel. “When people are confused about how the laws apply, within patchworks, that makes it harder.”

But some of Ortiz-Velez’s Democratic colleagues in the legislature are not on board with the proposal.

State Senator Melissa Agard, a Democrat, said it is “important as legislators that we honor the work that is being done at a local level… to address cannabis policy in the best way they can given our state’s laws,” and that she is “concerned there are provisions in this bill that would undo some of that work.”

Agard represents Madison, the second-largest city in the state and the home to Wisconsin’s flagship university, where “there is no fine for possessing up to 28 grams of marijuana on private or public property with permission,” according to the Journal Sentinel.

Another lawmaker from Madison, Democratic state Senator Kelda Roys, echoed Agard’s concerns.

“For communities like Madison and Milwaukee, which are very diverse communities that have large populations of people of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system, this would be worse,” Roys said, as quoted by the newspaper.

  1. WI is the binge drinking capitol. The tavern league doesn’t want to see cannabis legalized. The majority of WI doesnt share their sentiment. The choice will be easy next election.

  2. This is only partially true! The facts of this bill are that people in rural areas in Wisconsin would see fines and penalties dramatically REDUCED while fines and penalties in big cities would increase. Right now state law is WI is first time possession of any amount is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1000 fine and/or 6 months in prison. A second time possession charge is a life destroying felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and/or 3.5 years in prison. Currently rural folks are being treated like second class citizens by being held to the awful draconian state law while cities like Madison (where the state law came from ironically) and Milwaukee have opted out of state law so under this bill they would be held to the sane standards as everyone else in the state and thus would see their current fines which are small ($1 in Milwaukee) or non-existent ($0 in Madison)go up to a few hundred bucks.

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