In 2018 marijuana referendums, the people of Milwaukee County clearly stated their support for an end to marijuana prohibition: 70% of residents voted in support of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. In fact, a majority of the residents of every Milwaukee County municipality supported marijuana legalization. Why would any Alderman of the City of Wauwatosa reject citizens wants?
Franklin – 52.46%
Greendale – 55.27%
Hales Corners – 57.98%
Greenfield – 58.43%
Oak Creek – 58.73%
River Hills – 61.08%
Brown Deer – 63.49%
South Milwaukee – 64.51%
Wauwatosa – 65.95%
Fox Point – 66.07%
Cudahy – 66.50%
West Allis – 66.96%
Whitefish Bay – 66.99%
St. Francis – 67.83%
Glendale – 68.14%
Bayside – 69.32%
West Milwaukee – 74.17%
Milwaukee – 75.13%
Shorewood – 79.18%
While outright legalization of marijuana can only be done at the state level, municipalities can – and should – do the next best thing: remove all penalties for possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia, as Madison did in November 2020.
Removing penalties for marijuana possession is not only good politics, it is good policy.
As our county struggles with the opiate crisis, recent research has suggested that legalizing marijuana leads to significant reductions in opiate abuse. The 2020 study that analyzes the decline in opiate use in Colorado after marijuana legalization is widely accepted by most politicians and medical professionals.
This policy change would also dramatically reduce racial disparities in policing. In 2020 the ACLU put out a report that showed that in Wisconsin, Black people are 4.2 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana than white people, despite both groups using marijuana at similar rates:
Removing penalties for marijuana possession is an easy way to improve racial justice in your community and allow for the use of a much safer alternative to the addicting and deadly opiate medication.
Now almost four years later, in August 2022, the Wauwatosa Common Council has rejected a proposal that would have lessened the penalty and decriminalized the possession of less than 28 grams of marijuana.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports: “In narrowly rejecting the plan, 9-7, council members cited concerns about how developed the proposal was and what effect it would have on the community.
The proposal to modify the THC ordinance in Wauwatosa originated with former Ald. Matt Stippich. After he decided not to re-run for re-election in April, the idea taken up by his successor, Andrew Meindl.
Meindl’s proposal would have reduced the citation to $1 for possession of up to 28 grams of marijuana. His decision to spearhead the proposal came after a meeting with his constituents, who he said seemed “overwhelmingly” in favor of the change.
Currently, the penalty for marijuana possession runs from $100 to $500, depending on the amount of marijuana. Failure to pay the fine, or previous offenses, can result in arrest.
“From what I’ve seen, THC has helped my friends in Illinois reduce anxiety, minimize pain, be an alternative to smoking tobacco and alcohol, or address symptoms of other medical issues,” Meindl said.
Meindl also explained that his proposal aims to depenalize marijuana because legalization is not possible at the local level. He said he thinks the Wisconsin State Legislature will not consider legalization until “at least 2030” and that he wanted to act for his community now.
“I respectfully disagree with Alder Meindl. It (marijuana) is a gateway drug, I have considerable experience in narcotics investigations … I can tell you from my experience there are other crimes related to marijuana possession,” MacGillis said.
Ald. Sean Lowe and Ald. Margaret Arney supported Meindl’s proposal, both arguing that the current Legislature has no intention of discussing legalization, and so it is up to the council to “make decisions that are right for the community.” Ultimately, those arguments failed, and the council voted against the proposal.
Council members who voted to reject the proposal were Tilleson, James Moldenhauer, Mike Morgan, Jason Wilke, Robin Brannin, Melissa Dolan, John Dubinski, Amanda Fuerst and Joseph Makhlouf II.
Council members who voted in favor of the proposal were Arney, Lowe, Meindl, Meagan O’Reily, Joe Phillips, Ernst Franzen and David Lewis.
Meindl said he will continue to fight for depenalization, and the vote would not stop him from eventually submitting another proposal. Council members do not have to wait any particular amount of time before coming back with another proposal. However, it is unusual for similar proposals to be submitted within a year of a denial.
“The outcome at council is immensely disappointing when 69% of Wisconsinites support legalization,” Meindl said, referring to a recent Marquette University poll.
I add a helpful link to the Common Council for the City of Wauwatosa Contact Page and say it is never to late to get active and involved. Cannabis reform reform is a marathon, not a sprint. Let your Alderperson know your thoughts on the matter.
The 2022 Milwaukee County Referendum would be identical to one already put to county residents in 2018, so it is back to the voting booth this November and for sure when some of these opposing Alderpersons are up for election.