African Americans in Milwaukee County are 4.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. In the City of Milwaukee it is worse: African Americans are over five times more likely to be arrested, despite the fact that both groups use the same amount of weed.
A criminal record for simple possession creates a lifetime of collateral damage. This has huge repercussions for our community. But you can do something about it.
Currently, first-time offenders picked up by Milwaukee Police for possession of marijuana (less than one ounce) are either cited as a municipal ordinance violation, which is a $250-$500 fine, or as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months. For subsequent offenses, possession of marijuana is a Class 1 Felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3.5 years. This is too harsh a penalty: the punishment should fit the crime, and public opinion increasingly favors more sensible drug policy and a new approach to marijuana.
The ACLU of Wisconsin is currently working towards decriminalization in the City of Milwaukee. Aldermen Hamilton, Kovac, and Bauman have put forward an amendment to lower the maximum fine under the municipal ordinance from $500 to $25, and remove the automatic felony for a second offense. This will send fewer people into the corrections system due to their inability to pay the ticket and reduce the disparate impact of marijuana enforcement in Milwaukee.
The ordinance will be heard by the Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday, May 12. If you live in the City of Milwaukee, please let your alderman know that you think this is an important change that they have the power to make. Find your alderman here.
Tell them you think this is important because it will:
- Remove many nonviolent offenders from our criminal justice system by making the penalty for possession a municipal citation similar to a parking ticket.
- Decrease the effects of discriminatory enforcement on our community.
Be sure to let your friends and neighbors know about this important issue and encourage them to advocate too.