Mayor, some on council cite need for more research |
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders on Monday agreed to postpone voting on a fine reduction for the first offense of marijuana possession.
Proposed by Ald. Mary McComb, the ordinance amendment would reduce the city’s fine of $100 down to a $5 ticket that would total $67 after court fees were assessed.
The city previously decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2015, reducing the fine from $300 to $100, plus court costs, making the city’s fine lower than Portage County’s, which is $389.50, and Plover’s fine of $187.
But the measure could have unintended consequences, said Mayor Mike Wiza, who recommended to the City Council on Dec. 18 that it postpone any action until after the holidays.
“There was some misunderstood information, some inaccurate information, and I think we need to answer a few more questions before we’re able to make a decision on this,” Wiza said on Tuesday.
Among his concerns, Wiza pointed out law enforcement from both Portage Co. and the Wisconsin State Patrol can issue tickets inside the city, and neither would be considered a municipal ordinance violation.
“If we make that fine lower in the city, it’s only effective if someone is cited by a Stevens Point police officer…it would be very confusing for anyone in the city,” he said.
McComb said she proposed the ordinance amendment because she believes marijuana is a “soft drug…which would put it in the category with alcohol and tobacco.”
McComb added her proposal doesn’t legalize marijuana, which is illegal under Wisconsin state law, but she believes “it’s alright for adults to use marijuana privately.”
Police Chief Martin Skibba said regardless of personal belief, his department is charged with enforcing the law – and a fine reduction could make their job tougher.
“Fines are meant to be a deterrent from a particular behavior, and a $5 fine isn’t a deterrent,” Skibba said. “If we reduce the fee so low that it’s no longer a deterrent, you will have more people being arrested and convicted of felonies.”
Skibba said there are also other factors he believes aren’t being considered in the local legalization debate.
“Today’s marijuana is engineered; it’s completely different than what was smoked back in the ’60s,” he said, adding while many states have already legalized marijuana, they have also experienced subsequent increases in other crimes, such as hard drugs, trafficking and prostitution.
Wiza said too many factors weren’t being considered in the debate.
“There are just too many unknowns if we decriminalize this locally but not regionally,” he said. “The bottom line is, I would suggest if you want it legalized, you lobby the state.”
“This is a much larger, and much more complex issue than I think any of us understood,” said Ald. Cathy Dugan.
Wiza said the issue would return at the committee level in February.