Green Party activists in the city of Racine launched a campaign June 2 to collect a minimum 3870 signatures for direct legislation on lowering fines for possession of cannabis to $1. The Racine effort comes just as NORML activists completed a direct legislation campaign in the village of West Milwaukee. Previously, Dane County, Milwaukee, Fitchburg, Stevens Point, Monona and Middleton all reduced pot fines and activists are working to reduce Middleton’s as low as a $1. An effort to put lower fines before Oshkosh voters stalled after city officials balked at accepting signed petitions after a signature drive with legal action a possibility.
Here’s a Q&A Cannabadger did with Racine Green Party Co-chairs Fabi Maldonado and Sondra Plunkett on the Racine campaign. As of Friday June 9, over 1000 signatures had already been collected.
What is the situation like in Racine for people found possessing or selling cannabis?
In Racine, the situations our citizens who are found in possession of or with the intent to sell marijuana are unacceptably punitive and inequitable. To understand how the community is truly crippled by the heavy-handed penalties for these ‘offenses’ it’s best to be familiar with Racine’s social context both today and over the past four decades. Racine has seen a reduction in our population since 1970, and subsequently in our tax base. We’ve led the entire state in highest unemployment rate nearly constantly since the 1970’s and only recently moved to second, likely due to workers leaving to seek employment elsewhere. Many who do remain exist in economic stress which is seriously exacerbated by any encounter with law enforcement and/or the court system. When you consider where Racine finds itself today and what the people here have undergone for years, it becomes apparent that the economic constraints upon our populace weigh more heavily on us than possibly elsewhere
Unfortunately, policing marijuana possession disproportionately targets minority populations. Our geographically small corner of southeastern Wisconsin leads the entire country in highest incarceration rates among African-American males. Our current mayor, John Dickert, includes the ‘Broken Windows’ policing theory in his ten-year plan. This policing method intends to target high crime areas but, with the criminalization of marijuana intact, tends to allow law enforcement to prey on non-violent, minority offenders. This contributes mightily to the fact that, despite usage rates being near even among whites, African Americans, and Latinos, a minority person here is as many as twelve times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.
The very first time you are caught with cannabis incurs a fine and a misdemeanor. Subsequent times can incur fines 4x as large, plus jail time and felony charges. For many, this second offense means just that: a felony. When an individual receives this felon designation, the difficulty when finding a job increases exponentially, especially when seeking employment that provides a living wage. A felon loses their ability to get students loans, scholarships, financial aid with FAFSA as well as numerous other self-improvement assistance services. Their need to rely on social services then greatly increases in likelihood and amount. Essentially, beyond the already suffocating direct consequences of financial burdens, their situation is one of an ever mitigated chance to be successful for themselves, their families, their community, and for us all to the common people of Racine. These issues are compounded by legislation that doesn’t understand, addresses or solves the problems they are intended to.
The current penalty for first-time cannabis possession of 25 grams or less in the city of Racine looks to be $250 and I’m assuming there are court costs on top of that too. Is this about right?
It is $250, but in actuality, Racine police are encouraged to enforce the state statute rather than the city ordinance. The state statute carries a fine up to $1,000 and is a misdemeanor. Legal representation beyond our overworked public defender staff can increase costs dramatically.
What happens with second and subsequent expenses?
When an individual is caught for the second time they face a $10,000 fine, possible jail time, and a felony. That only covers the direct and costs related to the offense. The real and much more serious costs are the social and economic obstacles that result from the arrest and prosecution. Families are broken and further impoverished by incarceration and fines and once a felon is released from incarceration, securing gainful employment is nearly impossible.
What are you proposing?.
The Racine Green Party is proposing that we change the $250 fine immediately to $1 for 1st offenses. Inasmuch as a first offense is prohibited from being recorded, virtually all arrests will be treated as a first offense.
Will it address paraphernalia too?
The language change was becoming cumbersome for inclusion on the petition form itself and there were delays in getting the legal opinion finalized so we just passed over the paraphernalia portion thinking that it would be difficult to prosecute for it when it relates to decriminalized cannabis. We felt this was the expedient approach in light of the time constraints we are operating under and with the commitment that the Racine Green Party will be running multiple candidates in 2018 to expedite further decriminalization.
What should Racine residents they do if they want to support this issue?
Residents who have an interest in support of decriminalization should first determine to what extent they are capable and willing to participate in the movement. The most effective supports that residents can provide include: volunteering with the Racine Green Party, making donations to the cause ($ and/or supplies), taking the time to vote for City officials who support decriminalization and sharing information with friends, family, and neighbors.
Contact us! Racine Green Party 4601 Washington Ave. Racine, WI 53405
Green Party Office Phone: 262-676-2208 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-chair: Fabi Maldonado Phone: 262-672-1623 Email: email@example.com
Co-chair: Sondra Plunkett Phone: 724-992-8731 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org