RACINE — On Dec. 18, the Racine City Council passed a communication directing the Police Department to defer to a city ordinance and issue citations, rather than criminal charges, for first-time marijuana offenses under 25 grams and set the forfeiture between $1 to $75.
More than two weeks later, questions remain as to how, or if, the directive will move forward.
One of the first steps would be for Municipal Judge Rebecca Mason to set the forfeiture so officers can issue citations. The Journal Times attempted to contact Mason at her law office since she was not expected back at municipal court until later this week but did not receive a response. Her clerks didn’t know of any timeline for setting the bond.
The bigger question is: Once law enforcement are able to follow the directive, will they?
Wisconsin Statute 62.02(13)(a) states that, “The (police) chief shall obey all lawful written orders of the mayor or common council.”
What’s up for debate is the term “lawful.”
During discussion with the City Council, City Attorney Scott Letteney said that he believed the order was lawful, but Police Chief Art Howell has disagreed, saying that the directive is outside the council’s authority.
“As of this time, no (new) local ordinance has been drafted and passed for law enforcement officers to follow. If such an ordinance is eventually adopted, the Racine County District Attorney and the State Attorney General will need to determine if such an a ordinance is in line with (and not less restrictive than) existing state statues,” Howell said in a statement. “Once the various process and policy questions are resolved, and clear direction is received from the Attorney General, we will move forward as dictated by law.”
The Journal Times contacted incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul’s communications team, who said Kaul would not be available until after his inauguration on Monday.
Howell also stated that the issue with the directive isn’t its objective but the legality of the order and clarity for the policy department.
“In concluding that marijuana possession (less than 25 grams) should be exempt from criminal exposure, the Common Council communicated a clear message, that being, the Council is not in support of the criminalization of minor offenses. The discourse before us is more process-oriented than differences in policy preference,” Howell said. “Once legislation is passed and enacted (whether state statutes or local ordinances) law enforcement officers are obligated to enforce such laws. As such, the most effective way to define police action is to enact statutes and ordinances that provide clear direction.”
The Journal Times contacted the city attorney’s office, the mayor’s office and some members of the City Council with these questions, but did not receive a response last week.