City Keeps Fines for Marijuana Possession

By a 4-3 vote, the Common Council denied a proposed change in the city ordinance regarding marijuana possession. 

Council member Seth Wiederanders had proposed that the city eliminate fines for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana on a person’s own property. The offense would still require a citation. The city enforces a $100 fine for the first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. 

Wiederanders said this would make life better for those who use marijuana for pain management in their own home. City residents approved two nonbinding referenda in support of legalizing medical and recreational marijuana in the April election.

Mayor David Ward said the purpose of the fine is to help cover the cost the city incurs in enforcing the ordinance and that if you’re going to have a fine for throwing rocks or projectiles, it makes sense to have a small fine for possessing cannabis. 

Council member Helen Bacon acknowledged that public sentiment is trending toward legalization, but she warned that “the public needs to understand that there will be excess pressure on public services” with the legalization of marijuana and the relaxing of penalties.  

Wiederanders argued that the status quo does more harm because you’re penalizing people who use it in their own home for medical reasons.

Medical marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin. Michigan and Illinois have both legalized recreational and medical marijuana. 

“If you allow this, what’s next?” asked council member Kirsten McFarlin-Reeths, who said the issue is a state matter. 

Wiederanders agreed that the state needs to act on the issue, but action by Sturgeon Bay could help to push things forward. 

“This is, to me, the next logical step,” he said. “That we just don’t penalize small amounts on private property, and then we see what the state does.”

Gary Nault expressed concern about the message the city would be sending if it approved the change. Arleigh Porter said the city does not prioritize cannabis enforcement. The city has doled out an average of 18 fines per year during the last five years for violation of the ordinance.

“Our drug-enforcement efforts certainly focus on methamphetamine, more methamphetamine and more methamphetamine,” Porter said.

He said that a change in fines would not change how the police department operates in regard to the ordinance, but that even without a fine, a violator would still have to pay court costs of $163.50. 

Gary Nault, McFarlin-Reeths, Bacon and Dan Williams voted against the change. Kelly Avenson, Wiederanders and David Hayes voted in favor.