Tuesday, Madison’s city council voted unanimously to make it legal for adults to consume and possess small amounts of cannabis in public. Madison residents have been able to use cannabis in private and indoors since 1977. Under that ordinance you could be fined $50, not including court costs, for smoking or having cannabis in public.
“It’s actually legal now to possess and consume marijuana in public,” says Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen. “The penalty–the one dollar penalty–comes in effect if you have more that 28 grams of marijuana.”
Paulsen worked with Alders Michael Verveer, and Max Prestigiacomo on the new ordinance. It replaces the one from the 1970s.
Under the new ordinance, a one dollar fine may also be issued if someone has cannabis on school property or consumes it in a vehicle. A dollar may also be charged if the person doesn’t have permission to consume cannabis from whoever owns the property they are on. And minors, under 17, caught with cannabis, must appear in front of a judge.
While consuming cannabis is now legal, Paulsen says a police officer can always approach someone to have a conversation. However, they can’t write a citation for simply smoking a joint in public anymore. The ordinance change does not prohibit police pursuing charges for dealing, of any amount. Paulsen also stresses that operating a vehicle after consuming cannabis is illegal.
While smoking weed in your own house has been legal since the 70s, if you don’t have a home, there wasn’t a legal place for you to consume cannabis. “Individuals that are experiencing homelessness would be able to possess marijuana and consume marijuana in public, while in the past they wouldn’t have be able to do so,” explains Paulsen.
While consumption and possession is legal in Madison under the ordinance, it is still illegal under state and federal laws. In Wisconsin, any amount–inside your home or in public–could cost you a $1,000 and land you in prison for 6 months. That’s for the first offence. Next time, it’s a felony with a sentencing up to 3 and a half years.
Speaking at the common council meeting, Alder Michael Verveer called the changes long overdue. “The reality is that we shouldn’t even be talking about this tonight,” he says. “It’s preposterous and outrageous that the Wisconsin state legislature has not moved long ago toward legal and regulated adult use of cannabis like many states have across the country including many of our neighboring states.”
Hold on before smoking in public though. The new ordinance will go in effect when Madison Mayor Sayta Rhodes-Conway certifies the record of the meeting. Paulsen says that will be within the next 7 days.