Milwaukee City Council delays action on lowering pot fines

Milwaukee Ald. Nik Kovac discusses his substitute ordinance which would have reduced pot fines to $50 or lower. Photo source City of Milwaukee.

On Tuesday May 12, the Milwaukee Common Council debated a substitute ordinance that would have lowered the fine for possession of 25 grams of cannabis or less. After what the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel termed “heated debate,” alders voted to delay a final decision until June 2nd.

The current fine in the City of Milwaukee for possessing up to 25 grams of cannabis ranges from $250 to $500 plus court costs. Ald. Nik Kovac sponsored the measure which would reduce fines to $0 to $50. The proposed ordinance covered only the first offense with subsequent offenses still facing felony charges.

I listened to much of the debate and found myself wondering if this were 1975 or 2015. Terms like “slippery slope” and other reefer madness terms were tossed around amid the fear-mongering by a small group of alders. Here is a link to the video.

Ald. Robert Puente went so far as to lament that the proposed fine reduction was lower than the cost of licensing a pet, referring to the license fee as if it were a fine, “A dog and cat license forfeiture is higher than this.” Puente also claimed jobs will be lost because people would be smoking and selling pot, as if lowering a pot fine would destroy civil society in the Brew City.

Earlier, Kovac discussed the impact of pot fines on black residents, noting, “Out of about 1,500 tickets last year, 1,250 were issued to African Americans, in a city that has approximately the same number of African Americans as whites.”

On April 16 in Madison, the Dane County Board voted to lower the county pot fine to $1.00 plus costs, but rejected broader language that would have covered subsequent offenses and quantities over 25 grams of pot.

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