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Marijuana in Milwaukee: An overview of municipal marijuana policy in Milwaukee and other U.S. cities

Our new report finds that few Milwaukeeans who are cited for first-time, small-scale marijuana possession offenses spend time behind bars for failure to pay fines, though jail time for second and subsequent offenses is much more common. We also find that cities around the country have changed their marijuana laws and policies in a variety of ways, offering a range of options to consider for City of Milwaukee and state policymakers who are intent on making changes here.

Other key findings from the report include the following:

  • Most individuals found guilty of first-time marijuana possession charges by municipal authorities do not pay the fines they are given. In fact, payments of any amount were made in only 42% of cases during a recent period of more than three years; only 28% of the fines were paid in full.
  • Milwaukee County circuit court data from 2013 and 2014 on cases prosecuted by the D.A. that only involved a second or subsequent marijuana possession offense suggest that a majority of those cases resulted in felony convictions and sentences to time in jail.
  • Changing the law to treat all minor marijuana possession offenses as municipal violations - as opposed to criminal charges - likely would have a greater impact on reducing marijuana-related incarceration and preserving justice system resources than reducing municipal fine amounts. The two actions also could be pursued concurrently.

A follow-up report - to be released later this year - will dig deeper into justice system data to provide even greater insight into the societal and fiscal impacts of Milwaukee's existing marijuana legal paradigm and where (if at all) potential change might be most appropriate.

Report Brief | Full Report | Blog | Press Release Presentation


Milwaukee Common Council Public Safety Committee
May 28, 2015


Media Coverage

"New report looks at marijuana laws and policies in Milwaukee"
Wisconsin Public Radio

"First-time pot offenders are rarely jailed, study finds"
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel