It’s Time to End Marijuana Prohibtion

NORML Working with Dane County Communities

By Nate Petreman, President, Madison NORML — Significant progress has been made concerning marijuana law in Dane County, and positive changes seem to be in the works for some local communities.  However, many penalties remain on the books. There is a clear path to a better county, through progressive marijuana policy, which sets the tone statewide and nationwide.

Enforcement of these unjust laws needlessly clogs the criminal justice system and wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars. The war on marijuana is carried out with stunning racial bias. This war spends money where it doesn’t help the community. Use and availability have not been significantly impacted. There is a better way.
Paraphernalia laws exacerbate the issue and are a major contributor to arrests. Often these laws are used to compound charges against offenders.
Law enforcement leaders are ready for these changes. They see the realities of marijuana today more than ever before in the face of a heroin epidemic, and want these laws changed. Dane County prosecutors have the option to charge marijuana possession criminally, but since 2007 it is a rare case when they do, so they end up as ordinance violations. Fines can lead to bench warrants, which for some lead to jail time.
It’s time to end prohibition of marijuana.

Moving beyond marijuana prohibition

In 2010, Dane County voted on a referendum asking if Wisconsin should allow medical marijuana, which passed with 75.49% of the vote. That same year in Dane County, it was reported in the ACLU report The War On Marijuana in Black and White that blacks were arrested more than six times as often as whites, yet only constituted 5.2% of the population.
In 2014, Dane County voted on a referendum asking if Wisconsin should allow legalization of marijuana, which passed with 64.5% of the vote.
Working with Madison NORML and Wisconsin NORML, a plan to work on ordinances was researched and documented. It continues to be adapted to fit where applied. Full repeal is recommended for prohibition of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia ordinances and penalties.
Some municipalities are choosing to include language prohibiting juvenile possession in their ordinances. We offer no opposition to these amendments but we suggest fact-based approaches to educating juveniles about the risks associated with consuming psychoactive drugs rather than impose penalties.

Local ch-ch-ch-changes

Middleton began deliberating on the issue in July 2015, and is considering a proposal which is currently in committee. Alders have been in support of lowering fines, and the police chief stated he “would not be opposed to reducing our fine amount or adopting the provision of allowing casual amounts in a private setting.” At a Council of the Whole meeting in mid-2015, it was discussed positively.
Fitchburg had a $1000 fine for small possession, the highest in the county, leading to fines with fees and court costs as high as $1321. In September 2015, they revised their ordinance. Possession of marijuana for 21 years and over is now a $1 fine; possession of marijuana under 21 years is a $200 fine.
In 2015, Dane County made a change from a $1000 fine to a $1 fine for possession of arbitrarily small amounts of cannabis for first time offenders. Statewide, second offense for possession is a felony and any cultivation is a felony—even passing a joint has been charged as felony distribution. Full repeal is recommended.
Monona alders were contacted and a meeting was set up with an alder and the police chief; a police sergeant attended as well. At their request, I proposed language for an amendment to the ordinance. Subsequently, there has been continued productive conversation leading to discussion between citizens, alders and law enforcement at a committee meeting in January 2016.
The committee is now considering two proposals, one to repeal prohibition and one keeping a $1 fine. Both proposals contain language prohibiting juvenile possession, and exempt marijuana paraphernalia from their drug paraphernalia possession ordinance. The measures will likely be discussed and voted on at the committee meeting in February. We will recommend the city move forward without a fine.
Madison’s ordinance 23.20 was enacted in 1977. There is little that is progressive remaining in the language. We recommend full repeal along with exempting marijuana paraphernalia from 23.201, preparing for legalization statewide and nationwide.

Time to end prohibition

I am so grateful for and look forward to more enlightening discussions with so many thoughtful people of our great county and state. Leaders willing to push to finally end this devastating war are making the right decisions to step forward into the light. The results are overwhelmingly positive.
In the event that certain cities or villages are not willing to move forward, using State Statute 9.20 allowing direct legislation remains an option. We do not prefer this method as there is great value in the discussion.
The time is now to end the prohibition of marijuana across the county, state and country. Let’s push forward with other communities and strive for great achievements in 2016.

Nate Petreman will be at PD’s February GMM for a conversation on this topic: 6:30pm, Wednesday, Feb. 24, on the third floor at Madison’s Central Branch library.