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Cannabis, in the flowering stage, grows inside a greenhouse on Feb. 8 in Angels Camp, Calif. 

RACINE — One issue legislators might have to evaluate in the new session is if municipalities can direct local police departments with regard to those caught with marijuana.

Recently, the Racine City Council issued a directive to the Police Department to issue citations for first-time marijuana possession of 25 grams or fewer. The citation would come with fines ranging from $1 to $75.

Racine Police Chief Art Howell and Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling both denounced the action by the City Council, saying the issue should be decided by the state government.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, agrees with Howell and Schmaling.

“I am willing to have a discussion about what are the appropriate sentences for each crime,” Vos said. “But the City Council doesn’t get the right to say we’re going to prosecute crimes differently, on a state charge, than someone in Mount Pleasant or Caledonia. That’s just not the way the system works.”

When it comes to marijuana, Vos said he is in favor of initiatives regarding medical marijuana, but he is not in favor of recreational marijuana.

“A crime is a crime,” Vos said. “I certainly, as I said, am willing to have a discussion and listen to folks who believe that drug possession should not be as serious a crime. But I’m doubtful that I want to make drug possession less strenuously enforced than it is now.”

Vos said he is sympathetic to those who may have made a “bad decision.”

“You don’t want somebody to go away for years because of simple possession,” Vos said. “But I don’t want to have it be where you can make a bad decision and there’s no penalty and you continue to make the same bad decision.”

Council authority debated

Vos contends the City Council is going beyond its authority.

“I think that it’s crazy that the City Council needs to remember what their purview is,” Vos said. “I don’t like everything the feds tell us (the state Legislature) to do, but I don’t have a choice.”

City Attorney Scott Letteney has said the law is not clear on the issue and the City Council likely has the authority to do what it did, but “it’s clearly not illegal.”

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Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.

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