NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – An ordinance proposed to lower fines for recreational marijuana use failed to pass Winnebago County board’s judiciary and public safety committee last week.
The ordinance would lower fines to $1.00 if someone had 25 grams or less of marijuana, a steep drop from the $75 that it currently is at.
“I’m sitting on the fence of what to do next,” author of the ordinance and Winnebago County board member Brian Defferding said. “I could present this ordinance to the whole county board, I have the ability to do that, and it could still pass. But without winning committee favor, it’s very difficult to pass.”
Of the five judiciary and public safety committee members – Defferding being one of them – three abstained, while Conley Hanson voted nay and Defferding voted yay. That result means that the ordinance will not automatically be brought before the entirety of the Winnebago County Board as it did not win the committee’s favor.
“Admittedly, I was pretty disappointed with the abstentions because I said in the committee, I am open to amendment,” Defferding said.
Fellow Winnebago County board and judiciary and public safety committee member Jacob Floam declined to be interviewed and abstained from voting.
“The committee was presented with this resolution earlier this year, and at the time, we came to an opinion that this is policy for the state to consider,” he said via email. “Since the state hasn’t taken up this issue yet, the committee did not want to put the cart before the horse.”
He is not alone in believing that this is a matter for the state to act on first.
“It is time for Madison to address this one way or another,” Hanson said via email.
But Defferding disagrees with the ‘wait for the state’ approach and wants to see action now.
“I feel that local governments are the trendsetters,” he said. “They’re the ones where the state effectively follows what the counties have done.”
Defferding says that Winnebago County and Wisconsin as a whole are losing residents and tourists to neighboring states, and that is costing Wisconsin the chance of making millions. He says Michigan has made over millions in revenue from tourists taking trips there for recreational use.
This year, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury, more than $59.5 million is being distributed among 224 Michigan municipalities and counties as a part of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act.
But Defferding’s colleague and Winnebago County board judiciary and public safety committee member Bryan Stafford questioned at what cost Wisconsin would be making that money.
“Everyone does have the right of freedom, and we should celebrate freedom and give people the choice to live the way they want to live,” he said at last week’s meeting. “But then I see the addiction, and how it just ruins people, just ruins families.”
Stafford ultimately abstained from voting.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “some people who use marijuana will develop marijuana use disorder, meaning that they are unable to stop using marijuana even though it’s causing health and social problems in their lives.”
It also cites two studies on the disorder, one saying that “approximately 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have marijuana use disorder,” while another says, “people who use cannabis have about a 10% likelihood of becoming addicted.”
Defferding says that he is not sure if he will run for re-election in 2024, but if he does, he will likely propose another ordinance similar to this one.
“I think it’s time for (my fellow board members) to actually realize that they need to start moving the discussion forward,” Defferding said. “And they need to do this on the county level and not simply wait for the state.”