Madison decriminalizes cannabis

    Medical marijuana buds and prescription container
    Medical marijuana buds, stock photo via Getty Images.

    Adults in Madison will now be able to possess and use cannabis on private and public property after the city’s common council loosened local laws at its meeting Tuesday night. 

    The three new ordinances will allow anyone older than 18 to possess up to 28 grams of cannabis — nearly an ounce. The possession of paraphernalia for the use of smoking cannabis is also now permitted. 

    “This initiative is long overdue,” said Ald. Michael Verveer. “The reality is that we shouldn’t even be talking about this tonight, it of course is preposterous and outrageous that the Wisconsin State Legislature has not moved long ago toward legal and regulated adult use of cannabis like so many other states have across the country, including many of our neighboring states. It’s absurd that our community can simply drive down to South Beloit and legally purchase marijuana at a dispensary there.” 

    The use and possession of cannabis would still be prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school and on a school bus. The use will not be allowed in a moving vehicle. 

    The ordinance states that even though the possession and use of cannabis is still a violation of federal and state law, Madison Police officers will not refer for charges in cases that involve the allowed amount. Officers will still be able to seek charges for possession with intent to deliver, even if the person being charged possesses less than 28 grams. 

    To possess and use cannabis on private property, a person must have permission from the owner, landlord or tenant. 

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    The council also updated the ordinance for smoke-free areas to include cannabis along with cigarettes, cigars and vapes. 

    From Jan. 1, 2019 to Aug. 1, 2020, 468 cannabis citations were issued in Madison. The fines for these citations total $54,000 but only $14,000 has been paid. Verveer, citing data from the Madison Police Department, said decriminalization of cannabis will aid equity in the city. He said the city’s Black residents were disproportionately cited for cannabis possession, making up 43% of the citations but less than 7% of the population. 

    In October, the City of Appleton greatly reduced the city’s fines for possession of cannabis and paraphernalia and in 2019 Sturgeon Bay completely eliminated its fines for cannabis possession. 

    Municipalities are taking action on the issue while lawmakers at the state level move slowly on reforms. 

    Some of Wisconsin’s neighboring states have changed cannabis laws. Illinois and Michigan have completely legalized the recreational use of cannabis and Minnesota has legalized medical use.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.