La Crosse Decriminalizes Small Amount of Marijuana Possession. Yes? No? Maybe so? A double veto by Mayor is overridden by La Crosse City Council. In 2010 a similar news event circulated, then in June the ordinance passed, but was veto’d again by Mayor Harter. The veto in November 2010 almost had the same override result, but not quite. The main Alderman behind the push was quoted in June saying:
“I’ll let somebody else do it,” Olson said. “I gave it my chance,” Olson told the Tribune.
Glad to see Alderman Olson and the City Council stuck to it.
Last night (July 14th, 2011) the La Crosse Common Council voted 14 to 3 to decriminalize marijuana for first-time offenders who are caught with seven grams of marijuana or less. The new ordinance goes into effect July 24.
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With a new City of La Crosse marijuana ordinance that takes effect July 24, people who are caught with seven grams of marijuana or less for the first time, could receive a ticket instead of being arrested.
“We think it sends a wrong message that it could soften attitudes about marijuana and we know when attitudes are softened, use increases,” said La Crosse Police Chief Ed Kondracki.
Chief Kondracki says juvenile arrests for marijuana use are up 50% this year. With the new ordinance, Kondracki says police officers will determine whether a ticket or arrest is appropriate on a case- to-case basis.
City council member Chris Olson, who introduced the ordinance, says getting a ticket gives people a change to change their ways.
“For a DUI, basically, they get a second chance and I think marijuana should be the same situation,” Olson said.
“I don’t think that it will change habits,” said City of La Crosse resident Jana Carter. “I think that it will kinda give the mentality that there’s more of a sense of a freedom to do it and that’s dangerous.”
But Charles Gittens says, “It’s the right thing to do because our courts are clogged up a little bit too much the way it is.”
Chief Kondracki says he just wants it to be clear that even with the new ordinance, marijuana is illegal not only in the city, but in the state.
“It is a dangerous drug and we have to be careful that we still engage in our prevention efforts,” Chief Kondracki said.
The chief says there is no set dollar amount to a ticket for possession of small amounts of marijuana yet. He says the city council will work with the municipal court judge to determine an appropriate fine.
The La Crosse Tribune article reported:
The La Crosse Common Council tonight overrode Mayor Matt Harter’s veto of an ordinance that would make first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana a municipal rather than criminal offense.
Harter said last month he vetoed the measure for a second time because the public still perceives the ordinance as showing tolerance for drug use.
District 3 council member Chris Olson’s measure allows law enforcement to cite first-time possession of up to 7 grams of marijuana and drug paraphernalia as a municipal offense rather than misdemeanor.
Olson argued tonight the citations would generate additional revenue for the city and provide “a first-time offender a second chance.” He criticized police Chief Ed Kondracki for saying he would not ask his officers to enforce the ordinance.
“We shouldn’t be setting policy being dictated by an individual,” Olson said.
Capt. Rob Abraham later said Olson was mistaken on the chief’s position — the department will allow officers to use the ordinance at their own discretion. He did note the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department has yet to cite anyone under a similar ordinance.
Harter’s veto of a similar measure in November ended up two votes shy of an override.
The council also overrode all of Harter’s vetoes on filling nine vacant positions.
Gary Storck, the Madison NORML Examiner also pointed out important information about decriminalization throughout the state:
While La Crosse has resisted marijuana decriminalization, other locations in Wisconsin including Madison and Eau Claire have had it since the 1970s. A change in state law from the 1990s allows counties and municipalities to make amounts less than 25 grams a civil infraction. The state is now covered by a patchwork of state law and local decrim ordinances, some allowing up to 25 grams, others capped at much less. Dane County adopted a new policy in March 2007 that all amounts under 25 grams had to be processed as a local or county ordinance violation.
Phillip Smith of StopTheDrugWar.com also covered the news from Wisconsin, reporting in part:
But a police spokesman later said that Olson was mistaken and that the department would allow officers to issue citations under the ordinance if they wished. The spokesman also noted that the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department has yet to cite anyone under a similar county ordinance, instead charging them under state law.
La Crosse isn’t the first Wisconsin locality to decriminalize pot possession. Madison, the state capital, did in 1977, and Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, did in 1997.
Leaders from the La Crosse, Wisconsin and Winona, Minnesota region Americans for Safe Access Coalition are very happy to hear this news. The group has interest in creating a signature drive or initiative to bring a medical marijuana referendum to their community. Leaders have found renewed support from local officials, as well as activists in the field. Stay tuned for more information or if you would like to help directly in La Crosse, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Thank you.
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