Marijuana

First-time offenders found with a small amount of marijuana on them in Eau Claire currently can be fined up to $500, but a proposal would cut that down to $1.

Following overwhelming positive response to an advisory referendum on legalizing marijuana that appeared Tuesday on ballots in Eau Claire County, City Council acting President Andrew Werthmann is proposing the reduction to the city fine.

“I knew if it was a big margin, that I was going to do it,” he said.

Of those who voted in the referendum, 54 percent backed making marijuana use legal among adults 21 and older, and 31 percent support allowing it for medicinal use only. The remaining 15 percent wanted marijuana use to remain illegal under all circumstances.

“To me that was a pretty strong message for change,” Werthmann said.

That spurred him to draft changes to the city’s fine for first-offense marijuana possession of 25 grams or less. Currently, city law allows a range of $100 to $500 fines for an offense. Werthmann’s proposal would lower that to $1, but court costs and fees required by state laws would still be added to it. Those added costs are about $138, according to a table of Wisconsin circuit court fees and surcharges found online.

“Those are extra payments we don’t have discretion on as a city,” Werthmann said.

If approved, the $1 fine for marijuana possession would be the lowest city offense on the books — less than shoplifting or violating a fire code.

Werthmann’s proposal is on Tuesday’s City Council agenda for first reading, which means it won’t be acted upon until the Nov. 27 meeting.

Just as Tuesday’s referendum did not legalize marijuana in the county, Werthmann noted the city cannot make the substance legal within its boundaries. That would require action by the state.

The city also cannot change the penalties for second and subsequent marijuana offenses, which are state crimes — not city fines.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter