Green Bay considering weaker penalties for marijuana possession

Image courtesy MGN Online.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WLUK) -- There is a push by some in Green Bay to weaken the consequences for getting caught with marijuana.

The city council has been discussing changes to its ordinance for the past two months, but Monday night the protection and policy committee asked for more time to look at the issue.

Under Green Bay's current ordinance, the penalty for possessing 25 grams or less of marijuana includes a fine up to $1,000. It also states someone with a previous conviction in the state must be referred to the district attorney's office for criminal charges.

“It seems to me that the penalties we have are not fair,” said Randy Scannell, a member of Green Bay’s city council. “They're out of line with our current situation, our current environment.”

With some states legalizing recreational marijuana, Scannell first proposed changes to Green Bay's ordinance.

A newly amended proposal would lower the highest possible fine to $500. The threshold for the amount of marijuana would also be raised to 28 grams, which equals one ounce. Community service could be done as a substitute for the fine or in conjunction with a fine. Police could also issue citations to repeat offenders, instead of referring them for criminal charges.

“I still think the max fines could be lower,” said Dawn Radford of Green Bay.

“You've got to do something,” said Mark Steuer, Green Bay’s city council president. “You've got to have some kind of fine, I believe.”

Green Bay has looked at what other municipalities do. In Oshkosh, a first offense marijuana possession is $200. In Stevens Point, it's $100. In Milwaukee, possession is up to $50, but community service is an alternative. Madison's ordinance states people with less than an ounce in a private place won't be fined; if you're caught in public in Madison, it's up to a $100 fine.

“I think a $1,000 fine is a deterrent,” said John Vander Leest, a member of Green Bay’s city council.

At Monday’s meeting, Vander Leest read statements from Brown County's district attorney and sheriff that stated lowering the potential fine is sending the wrong message.

“The fines aren't that big,” said Vander Leest. “I think the system is not broken.”

“To me the message it sends is in Green Bay we're going to be fair about our criminal code for marijuana,” said Scannell.

The committee voted to wait two more weeks before sending a final proposal to the full city council. It wants city staff to come up with separate consequences for someone caught with marijuana in their home and someone caught with it in public. It also wants information on whether it is possible to change rules for paraphernalia possession.

According to Green Bay Police, 363 marijuana citations were issued last year. That compares to 336 this year, through Sept. 26.

All citations issued the last two years were for $880, including court costs, which is just short of the $1,000 maximum fine.

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