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UPDATE: Monona reduces marijuana possession charges

Monona could see big reduction in...

MONONA, Wis. - Monday night, the Monona city council voted to pass an ordinance to reduce the fine if someone is caught in possession of marijuana. 

The Herald-Independent in Monona said the vote passed 4 to 3. 

The council looked at four separate amendments to replace the existing ordinance. 

Under the new ordinance, possessing marijuana in public or in private spaces is no longer subject to a fine, as long as that person is older that 21-years-old. Using marijuana in a private residence would also be exempt from a fine. 

Smoking weed in public is still subject to a $200 fine. 

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After a year and a half of discussion, the Monona City Council will decide during its meeting on Monday night if fines for marijuana possession will be reduced.

The current ordinance states anyone in possession of the drug will receive a $200 fine, plus court costs, but that could be reduced to a mere $1 fine for those 21 and older.

Monona police Chief Walter Ostrenga said he doesn't have any say in the decision, but has concerns if it passes.

"I think it's setting the values of the community. If the community values are, 'Marijuana is not that serious of an offense' and they want to have a $1 fine, or no fine, that's their opinion," Ostrenga said.

Ostrenga said they only average about 60 to 70 marijuana possession calls a year, but is worried a reduced fine could lead to more people having the drug in their household, and it falling into the hands of children, when it's already a problem.

"Looking at the calls we get at the high school, marijuana is, like, No. 1. That's the No. 1 drug being abused," Ostrenga said.

Those who advocate for the change think it will force law enforcement officers to focus on the drug issues that are even more apparent.

"It really isn't worth their time to go out of their way to get somebody for a small amount of cannabis, especially when we're in the middle of this opioid -- I have to call it a health emergency -- because despite all the laws the state has passed, the amount of overdoses keeps going up," said Gary Storck, former president of Madison National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

Monona Mayor Bob MIller agrees there are those concerns, but wants his city to get on track with laws in neighboring communities.

"I can totally see both the arguments for and against, but I think there is an initiative, a change coming forth that is going to be a reduction of those fines," Miller said.

Miller said there are four amendments the council will look at, each reducing the fine, but only for those 21 and older.

"Rather than $1, it might be $10. It might be possession only in your home would be reduced. If you're outside, then it's possession over use," Miller said.

He feels confident one of the amendments will pass, but stresses this doesn't legalize marijuana.

"I wouldn't go and test the rule tonight if it was reduced, I guess would be my advice," Miller said.

Monday's council meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Miller said it's open to the public, and encourages Monona residents, if they want a say in the decision, to show up and voice their opinion.


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