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Proposed Bill Aims to Raise Fines for Cannabis Possession in Wisconsin |

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.”

It could impact communities like Milwaukee which is both the largest and most diverse city in Wisconsin. 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.”

Wisconsin’s recreational marijuana use is still illegal, unlike in the neighboring Great Lakes States of Illinois and Michigan. Badger State legislators have been proposing various legalization bills for years. None of these have succeeded. However, there are some signs that change is possible.

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.”

The bill that would standardize marijuana fines across the state will be a challenge for legalization advocates in Wisconsin.

State House Representative Sylvia Ortiz Velez, a Democrat and Shae Sortwell (a Republican), proposed the legislation. They presented the bill during a Tuesday news conference at Madison’s statehouse.

“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.