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Throughout the nation, the discourse over the legalization of marijuana has raised legal questions and public policy debates. In what appears to be a good faith effort to strengthen decriminalization legislation locally, the recent directive advanced by the City Council raises broader questions and concerns. As is the case on a national level, Ordinances created by the local City Council may be more restrictive than State Statutes; however, such Ordinances may not be less restrictive. The latter would effectively allow for local elected officials to usurp the powers and authority reserved for state legislators.

Beyond questions involving legislative intent is the issue of codifying administrative authority versus legislative authority. Outside of creating new Ordinances, the City Council has undisputed oversight over two specific areas of the police function. The City Council has the authority to set the authorized strength of the police department, and the Council has the authority to set the corresponding budget in support of police operations. Whether crafting advisory directives or enacting new Ordinances, the act of defining the scope of police authority and/or taking steps to remove or dilute police discretion, from my perspective, does not fall under the enumerated powers granted to local elected officials.

As a clear check on police powers, the Police and Fire Commission has oversight over hiring, promotions, termination and discipline of police personnel. On such occasions when police officers exceed their statutory authority, the Commission is in place to address such areas of concern; removing political influence in the process.

The marijuana legalization issue is complex in nature. While the recent referendum revealed strong support for the legalization (for medicinal purposes), support for recreational legalization is not as widely embraced at this time. While there are clear revenue benefits to legalization, there are also serious public safety concerns, not the least of which being the known increase in impaired driving and related injuries and fatalities. An increase in black market grow operations and related arrests are also to be expected.

Whereas local and state officials cannot conceivably regulate harvests from home grow operations (into Schedule I or Schedule II classifications), unregulated and unsafe cannabis products could be introduced into the community, creating both public health and public safety related concerns.

Such challenges are now evident in Colorado and other states where legalization (in advance of robust) research has resulted in unintended consequences. Questions relating to disproportionate enforcement must be vetted and addressed as well as in jurisdictions where such evidence exists.

I look forward to working with members of the City Council to address their expressed concerns without compromising our core police mission and public safety goals and objectives. I also look forward to working with DA Hanson and all area law enforcement leaders to ensure that the fiscal and public safety interests of the broader county are considered as well moving forward.

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Art Howell is Racine’s chief of police.

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