Don’t expect marijuana fines to go any lower in Stevens Point in the near future.
The Stevens Point City Council voted unanimously to take no action on a proposal that would have reduced pot fines issued by the city from $100 plus court fees to just $5 plus court fees. Council member Mary McComb, brought the proposal forward late last year, but on Monday moved for the council to take no action on it.
“I have come to believe that Stevens Point is not ready to further lower the civil forfeiture to $5. There is far from a consensus in Point about marijuana,” McComb said. “Many people whom I respect are worried about lowering the penalty. Many people whom I respect would like the penalty lowered.”
The council in December tabled the ordinance revision for further study, also taking no action then.
The proposal would have applied to offenses related to marijuana possession and marijuana paraphernalia possession. The proposed language did specify between first and multiple offenses. The current ordinance still stands at $100 plus court fees.
McComb said she still supports legalization of marijuana and will continue to advocate for action on the state level.
“We, just as a city, aren’t ready to go there,” she said.
She said the city is better suited to create change in matters such as residential development, road infrastructure and economic and business development. The council approved a development agreement Monday between the city and D-J Rice Development for a residential development at 525 Fourth Ave, which would consist of 10 twin home buildings.
“Like others, I thought that lowering the forfeiture would send a signal to our state legislatures about many people’s support for marijuana legalization,” McComb said. “I am more convinced than I was before my research that Wisconsin should legalize marijuana.”
However, McComb said she has no plans to bring this proposal back to the City Council at this time.
The council previously decriminalized possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana for first-time offenders in 2014, opting for a fine of $300 plus court fees instead of a criminal charge. In 2015, the council reduced the fine to $100.
McComb, who did not introduce the previous proposals, said pushback was fiercer this time when it came to $5 fines.
Those opposed to her ordinance amendment included the Stevens Point Police Department, Portage County Coalition for Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Troy Seppelt, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Comments from the public were mixed at Monday’s council meeting. Some said the current fine acts as a deterrent. Others said the fine doesn’t deter against marijuana use, that marijuana doesn’t lead to harder drugs and that opioids are a much larger threat.
A new issue raised by law enforcement and opponents of the measure was that the lower fines would complicate local enforcement jurisdictions because of vast disparities between fine amounts.
“(The proposal) would only apply to Stevens Point police officers and only within the boundaries of Stevens Point,” Mayor Mike Wiza said. “So, if a county sheriff’s deputy pulls me over in Stevens Point for possession of marijuana the fine’s different. If the (State Patrol) pulls me over in the city of Stevens Point for possession of marijuana, the fine’s different. It’s getting very confusing for anyone.”
Wiza said he remains neutral on marijuana legalization and welcomes further discussion on the issue.
Ben Kollock, a 29-year-old marijuana legalization activist and Stevens Point resident, said he doubts that the ordinance would further complicate enforcement.
“This, in my opinion, is an issue that suddenly has been brought up by those against the amendment in an effort to throw our hands in the air and say ‘Nope, too confusing, we can’t figure this out and so we shouldn’t change anything’,” Kollock said. “If this is a legitimate concern, how many confusing citations have been written since we lowered the fine from $300 down to $100 in 2014? If this was a valid issue, it should have shown itself after our 2014 amendment.”
Even though she supported the vote to take no action, Council President Meleesa Johnson argued that there’s a distinction between recreational users and addicts, that deterrents don’t work and that the proposal was aimed at making life easier for those who use marijuana recreationally and medically.
“Lowering the fine was …. not to encourage or perpetuate drug use by addicts, but to allow adults to make decisions for themselves like they do when they go to the bar,” she said.