Two weeks after a Ladysmith Common Council tie vote failed to reduce fines for adult possession of marijuana and smoking materials issued by city police officers to $10, a similar motion was narrowly passed this week.
The proposal was brought back to the council Monday, Sept. 23, when the council voted 3-2 with one abstention to pass the fine reduction. While the first proposal called for the much lower fines to apply to anyone 18 years old or over, the revision now calls for reduced fines for anyone at least 21 years old.
Voting for the reduction were Alds. Marty Reynolds, Al Hraban and Mark Platteter. Voting against the motion were Alds. Brian Groothousen and Bonnie Stoneberg. Abstaining from voting was Ald. Jon Fields.
The proposal appears to have originated during a May 16 city council Legal Affairs Committee meeting. Minutes from that meeting state, “It was reported that [Municipal Court] Judge [Terry] Carter would like to see the forfeiture for first time possession of marijuana reduced from $387 to something much less; maybe $10.”
The proposal to reduce the fine 97.4 percent was recommended to the council by the Legal Affairs Committee on a 2-1 favorable vote.
Stoneberg, the committee’s chairman, strongly opposed the reduction. She called marijuana a gateway drug leading to eventual use of stronger drugs.
“I think it is a horrible message to send to our children,” Stoneberg said.
With court costs, a marijuana possession ticket for an adult 21-years-old or more will cost $72. Tickets by city officers will remain as they currently are at $388.60 for violators under the age of 21.
There were five marijuana possession tickets issued by city officers last year, according to Ladysmith Police Chief Kevin Julien. He said there have been no such tickets issued by his department so far this year.
Violators caught by a county deputy or state trooper would continue to face different fines. A deputy would issue a ticket from a county ordinance. A trooper can’t write a ticket for marijuana and would instead arrest for possession and pursue criminal charges.
About 40 years ago, the city council decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The move allowed municipal tickets to be issued to violators instead of going through criminal court system.
The apparent rationale for some council members to pursue lower marijuana fines is a growing statewide trend toward favoring marijuana legalization.
Ald. Brian Groothousen admitted during the meeting he was confused about why the council wants such a change. He said pledging support for a democratic governor’s agenda can be done in ways other than lowering marijuana possession fines. He added police now will likely not write a $10 ticket believing it is not worth the time.
Groothousen cited former drug addict turned motivational speaker, Matt Jablonsky, who was invited to speak to the community last year about the dangers of drug use, while questioning the fine change.
“He talked about it being a gateway drug,” Groothousen said. “Even if it is not it puts you in contact with people who are using other drugs.”
“That is the thing I worry about. We already have a community that has a drug problem. We are making it easier for people who maybe would stay away to come in contact with others with drugs. I have real concerns with that,” Groothousen said.
Ladysmith Mayor Alan Christianson, who heavily promoted Jablonsky’s visit, said the point is to get police onto more important matters.
Stoneberg continues to disagree.
“It is a gateway drug because when they are no longer getting the high to the degree they want from marijuana they will start adding things to it,” Stoneberg said. “Why are we telling our kids it is OK once you turn 18 it is only going to cost you ten bucks. It is just a bad message.”
After that statement, Platteter amended his original motion of 18 years old as the starting age for lower marijuana fines to 21 years old. The amendment was seconded by Reynolds.
While Carter originally had requested marijuana fines be reduced for first-time offenders, the council’s action to decrease fines appears to apply to every ticket regardless of how many prior offenses have taken place.
Officers will use discretion in determining how much marijuana can be in possession before issuing a ticket or making an arrest, Julien said.