01STOCK_MARIJUANA

JANESVILLE

Rock County Sheriff Troy Knudson said a county board decision to lower the fine for possession of marijuana to $1 will have little effect on how deputies do their jobs.

The Rock County Board on Thursday voted unanimously to reduce the fine for possession of an ounce of THC to $1.

With mandatory court costs, that comes to $114.50.

The previous fine for a marijuana ticket was $150 plus court costs in most cases.

The ordinance affects only those cited by sheriff’s deputies. Arrests by other police agencies in the county still result in higher fines, as set by those municipalities’ boards or councils.

The city of Janesville issues a $50 ticket for possession of up to 25 grams, slightly lower than the county’s 28 grams threshold. Twenty-eight grams is about 1 ounce.

Court costs increase the Janesville penalty to $263.50.

County board member Jacob Taylor of Beloit, who proposed the change, told The Gazette he was told the sheriff’s office charged a $150 fine for first-offense possession before the change, although, like Janesville, the ordinance allows fines of up to $500.

Taylor said he hopes the change will prompt deputies to look at the fine and decide it’s not worth even issuing a citation, although that’s up to the deputy.

Taylor told the board the change was in response to the 2018 county advisory referendum calling for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Sixty-nine percent of voters voted “yes.”

The vote was unanimous for the ordinance, which also reduces the fine to $1 for possession of paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana.

Knudson said deputies decide whether to issue a county ordinance violation ticket or to use the state statute when making an arrest.

Those possessing large amounts of marijuana generally are charged with possession with intent to deliver marijuana, a felony. Those who are suspected of second-offense possession also could be arrested for a felony under state statutes.

Asked about possession of an amount that doesn’t rise to the level of intent-to-deliver but is greater than the 28 grams in the new ordinance, Knudson said deputies would have discretion, and the district attorney’s office always has final word on charges.

Knudson said THC-infused edibles generally weigh more than marijuana, so the question would be what weight in edibles would trigger more than the county ordinance violation.

“I guess we’re going to have to use some discretion as to whether we are dealing with simple possession or something be more like distribution,” Knudson said.

Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said Janesville, like many other state municipalities and counties, instituted the non-criminal ordinance violation for THC possession several years ago.

An ordinance violation is a civil forfeiture, not a crime. Moore said the main reason Janesville made the change was to save officers’ time. A criminal arrest involves the time and costs of fingerprinting and other booking procedures, which takes officers off the street, Moore said. An ordinance violation involves only issuing a ticket.

Moore noted that officers have the discretion to arrest a person on a misdemeanor criminal charge for possession of marijuana instead of issuing a ticket, but that depends on the circumstances.

Moore said a person found with a small amount of marijuana, a gun, $10,000 and had a record of drug sales would likely be arrested for the crime of marijuana possession instead of getting the non-criminal ticket.

Janesville City Council President Sue Conley said she would “go along” with reducing Janesville’s fine to $1 and said she supports legalization of the drug, but she noted that’s something local governments can’t do.

Conley is a Democrat running for state Assembly, which could pass a legalization bill.

Conley’s opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Republican DuWayne Severson, a former council member. Severson said he is open to discussing legalizing medical marijuana if science showed a benefit and if a doctor prescribed it, but he has concerns about recreational marijuana.

Severson’s concerns include increases in behavioral health needs and pressure on emergency rooms and a possible increase in intoxicated-driving problems from marijuana.

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