Alders propose to decriminalize use, possession of cannabis in Madison

Alders representing the University of Wisconsin campus and downtown area proposed three new ordinances at the City Council meeting Tuesday to decriminalize the use and possession of cannabis in Madison.

The proposal would amend current city ordinances to allow individuals 18 years or older to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis on private or public property with permission of the owner, mirror the state statute of allowing individuals with prescriptions to use cannabis and prohibit consumption while operating a motor vehicle, according to The Capital Times.

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District 8 Ald. Max Prestigiacomo said in an email statement to The Cap Times that the ordinances will address problems that arise out of criminalization of cannabis.

“The structure of fines and fees in this city effectively criminalizes poverty and often criminalizes homelessness,” Prestigiacomo said in the email statement. “Compounding and successive fees coupled with restricting where consumption is allowed are direct causes of this injustice.”

Currently, marijuana is considered a Schedule I hallucinogenic substance under the Wisconsin Uniform Controlled Substances Act. A first offense for the possession of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine or imprisonment for up to six months. Subsequent offenses are considered Class I felonies.

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District 4 Ald. Mike Verveer said in an interview with The Cap Times he believed the Madison cannabis policy was outdated and irrational. Following recent events, such as the police killing of George Floyd, 12 alders, including Verveer and Prestigiacomo, signed as sponsors of a new cannabis ordinance.

“Both my own personal interest in the decriminalization of not just cannabis, but all fines and fees that criminalize a public health issue, pushed me to sponsor this,” Prestigiacomo said in the email statement to The Capital Times. “Not to mention, these fines are disproportionately used against marginalized people of color.”

The fiscal note associated with the ordinance indicates the amendments would result in fewer cannabis-related citations — from Jan. 1, 2019 to Aug. 1, 2020, $14,000 of $54,000 cannabis citations had been paid.

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Acting Police Chief Vic Wahl said he is concerned about the discrepancy between the city ordinance and state law with the legal age to use cannabis.

Wahl said in an email to The Cap Times that the ordinances may not do enough to block marijuana from the school environment, adding that raising the permitted age to 21 and putting a bail deposit on campuses could refine the ordinances.

Oct. 14, the Public Safety Review Committee will review the cannabis proposals.

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