City leaders on Monday expected to give final approval on fine reduction for marijuana possession
By Brandi Makuski
City leaders last week gave an initial thumbs up to lowering the fine for possession of 5 grams or less of marijuana.
The move is latest in lowering the penalty for possession, which was decriminalized by the City Council last October in an effort to reduce demands on the over-stressed county jail. The fine associated with possession had been $300- a number that rose to $439 after court costs.
The city’s Public Protection Committee approved reducing the fine On Aug. 10 to $100, which rises to $187 with court costs included, and mirrors the fine for the first offense of underage drinking.
The request for the lower fine came from Alderwoman Mary Kneebone.
“I think right after the election, all the newly elected alderpeople got a request from a citizen,” Kneebone told the committee. “So I thought, ‘Why not put it out there?’.”
Few residents attended to speak on the matter, which city leaders had expected to bring in larger crowds. Resident Jo Seiser said she supported the move, saying local law enforcement would do better to focus on violent crimes rather than what she characterized as largely youthful indiscretions.
“I support being able to create a situation where people can kind of clean up their behavior,” Seiser said. “Having the amount lessened is a good idea, that way there will be less debt for them to become a good, solid citizen again.”
Area resident Ben Kollock, who recently beat leukemia, said he also supports the decrease.
“There’s a myth that decriminalizing [marijuana] would lead to an increase of use. That’s a valid concern, but decriminalization does not equal a lot more use,” he said, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicating no deaths have been attributed to the drug, whereas “hundreds of thousands” of alcohol and tobacco-related deaths are marked each year.
“The punishment for possession of a small amount of marijuana should fit the crime,” Kollock added, weighing much of his argument on the need for medical marijuana. “Coming so close to death, I thought, ‘Why doesn’t someone do something about this?’ You look at the science behind this, and it doesn’t make sense we would scare people away with a high fine.”
But some city alders disagreed with Seiser and Kollock
“This is crazy; you don’t decrease a fine, I don’t care what it’s about,” said Alderman Mike Phillips. “We should double the fine. Maybe [then] they’d be concerned, maybe they wouldn’t smoke it. I think it’s absolutely wrong…leave it the same or double it.”
Alderman Tony Patton said he’s worried there’s a larger issue going undiscussed.
“We have to realize it might not be a big deal, but those drugs are coming from somewhere. We already have problems downtown with drug deals going on. It might be a little amount of drugs, but the person they’re getting it from could have hundreds of pounds of it, as well as other drugs,” he said. “We have to be careful about what we’re sanctioning here; we’re lowering the fine, saying it’s okay, but we’re not seeing where these drugs are coming from, maybe out of the country, and consider whether maybe we’re going to encourage more drug dealers coming to the area.”
Final approval of the fine reduction now moves on to the full City Council on Aug. 17 at 7 PM at the courthouse. The public is welcome to attend.