The Tomah city council wrestled with marijuana issues during its two meetings this week.
The council’s Committee of the Whole met Monday and the City Council met Tuesday.
After discussion Tuesday, the council established an ad hoc committee consisting of the police chief, city attorney, three council members and mayor with city administrator as ex officio to review the city’s marijuana ordinances and fines.
Monday night the committee discussed the state of the decriminalization of marijuana in the city.
Councilman Chris King said he brought up the topic because it was one of the main topics on his platform when he ran for the council, and he believes changes need to be made to the city bond schedule and related offenses.
“I would really like to see up to three offenses stay within municipal ordinance (before a misdemeanor or felony) ... I would also like to review the bond schedule as far as the level of fines,” he said. “For me it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the idea is to discourage people under 18 from consuming cannabis, but yet they have a smaller fine than adults, so it seems to me like that should be flipped.”
Tomah police chief Mark Nicholson said marijuana has been decriminalized in Tomah for about 24 years.
“We created local ordinances for that, we have fines that are exactly that, they are fines,” he said. “When people are found guilty in municipal court, it’s no different than being found guilty of a traffic offense or a disorderly conduct that comes in front of municipal court. It’s not a misdemeanor, it’s not felony. Generally speaking, when somebody’s arrested for possession of marijuana, they’re issued a citation. If it’s their first offense, their first citation will direct them to municipal court.”
The first offense for possession of marijuana for a juvenile between the ages of 12 to 16 is $124; it’s $313 for an adult.
Second offense, if not associated with another charge, is typically referred to circuit court, Nicholson said. Then the district attorney will drop it down to a county ordinance.
For a third offense it will be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, and a fourth offense is a felony.
“If we didn’t have municipal court at all, if we had not decriminalized marijuana prior to this, all cases would get referred to the district attorney’s office,” Nicholson said. “At that point he still has the option of reducing it down to a county ordinance violation. The second offense would be a misdemeanor, third offense would be a felony. If he didn’t wish to file it as a county ordinance, he has the right to file it as a misdemeanor for first offense and a felony a second offense.”
Members of the public gave their opinions on decriminalization.
Megan Anderson read a statement from Maretta Budde, club director of the Tomah Boys & Girls Club and member of the Monroe County Safe Community Coalition.
“I urge you not to change the ordinances related to cannabis as they pertain to juveniles,” the statement read. “They should not be repealed or the punishments lessened. I speak with teens who have made a mistake frequently as they are allowed to complete court-ordered community service here at the club. Many of them learn from their mistakes; they need to learn consequences while they’re young to help them to become responsible adults in our community.”
Greg Kinsey, a resident of Madison, also spoke at the meeting. He asked members to be open-minded, especially where it concerns medicinal marijuana — which he uses for his Crohn’s Disease.
“I am a legal patient in the state of Wisconsin, under statute 961.413G, which states that if my doctor understands my condition ... that I can consume and possess cannabis in the state of Wisconsin legally with a letter of recommendation that he understands my treatment, my process,” he said. “I am also understanding of his concerns medically, ethically, legally and under the stress levels in this treatment realm. Please keep an open mind. It’s not as crucially bad as folks think it is.”
After lengthy discussion Monday, a motion to create a committee to investigate the decriminalization of marijuana failed.
When the council met Tuesday, Nicholson said it was a mistake not to create a committee.
“I feel that we should have a committee because it appears that one way or another Chris King intends to take (the issue) to a non-binding referendum, and that will come back to the city council,” Nicholson said Wednesday morning. “Having a committee allows us to do some research and to educate everybody at the same time. I am not in favor of making changes to the decriminalization any more than there already is. We have a system and process in place that appears to work.”
The council voted 5-2 to create a committee to “investigate options related to adjustment of the Tomah bond schedule and drug-related offenses and the dual purpose being to bring some form or resolution to the council with a recommendation.”
Council members King, Mary Ann Komiskey, Lamont Kiefer, Wayne Kling and Larry Siekert were in favor of the committee. Members Mike Murray and Luke Bohlen were against.
Murray said he is concerned about the consequence of changes to decriminalization.
“I think this goes beyond personal belief on an item. I think we need to look at this from a city standpoint — what do we risk as a city by addressing the situation and perhaps ... decreasing fines so on and so forth” he said. “What is the risk of that? ... What reward are we gaining for the community by lessening fines?”
Bohlen said he was confused about the true target of the committee.
“Is its target to create information for dissemination to citizens, is it to, as it says here and voted down last night, to start the process of re-charting cannabis-related fines?” he said. “That’s very specific, that’s an actual committee about to take action and change fines ... I would look for clarification on the actual title.”