Despite the Racine City Council’s attempts to control how the Racine Police Department operates, it is my opinion that the council has exceeded their authority with its order regarding how police handle marijuana charges. The council has no power to order sworn law enforcement officers to ignore state law.

In Wisconsin, it is a crime to possess marijuana, in any amount. The “directive” given by the City Council directly conflicts with multiple laws, and case law in Wisconsin is clear, if there is logically conflicting legislation, a local ordinance falls.

Proposed City Ordinance 3-19, is consistent with Wisconsin law and is well within the right of the city to adopt it. It actually mirrors Wis. Stat. sec 66.0107(1)(bm). However, the “directive” of the council that officers must use the ordinance in certain cases is not within their authority.

Do we want legislators, with no specialized knowledge making arrest decisions? Where does this logically lead? Will the City Council decide who is drunk driving? Who is abusing their spouse? Who is harming children?

In order for law enforcement officers to properly do their job, it is critical that we trust them to use their discretion. Wis. Stat. sec. 968.07(1)(d) says a “Law enforcement officer may arrest someone when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is committing or has committed a crime.” This means that a police officer on the street has the authority to issue a citation to a person possessing marijuana, or to make a criminal arrest.

These are case-by-case decisions that should not be covered by a blanket rule. I believe that matters of discretion can be guided by policy set by the Chief of Police in conjunction with the Police and Fire Commission, however, it cannot be a council mandate.

Just so the record is clear, I am opposed to legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Every day, physicians in this country prescribe opiates and utilize cocaine for local anesthesia in eye and sinus surgeries. Both are derived from plants and have medicinal uses and regulated by the FDA for safety and purity.

The same can be done with marijuana. The beneficial substances from marijuana can be derived from the plant, creating medicine, to prescribe to patients who will benefit from it, many of which are already available by prescription such as Cannabidiol (Epidiolex) and THC (Dronabinol). The difference is, there is no “high” or “buzz” with these prescription formulations such that they are not preferred by most people who want to legalize marijuana.

I invite anyone from the council to come to Circuit Court and see the work we do with first-time marijuana offenders. The police aren’t just arresting kids to make them criminals because they smoke marijuana. In fact, I would argue that just issuing citations does offenders a disservice, as it does not provide any education or opportunity for treatment.

In 2017, I, along with the Racine County Human Services Department, created a program to divert first, second and even sometimes third-time marijuana offenders out of criminal court. The program is called T.A.S.C. or THC Alternative Solutions Class. It requires offenders to complete 12 hours of education so that people who use better understand the risks of using and the potential for addiction. We are trying to help people, especially young people, make better choices for themselves, rather than having them pay a ticket and continue to use. After taking the class, charges are then dismissed for first-time users. In the case of repeat offenders, charges are reduced to ordinances or misdemeanors.

Under the city plan, young people will just get another ticket that they cannot pay, and the consequences of the non-payment will prevent them from driving legally or lead to civil judgments against them that accrue interest. Can we really say that is a benefit to young people?

This discussion begs the question as well — what information does the City Council have regarding the effects of marijuana? I have formed my opinion by reading research and speaking with physicians and alcohol and drug therapists. The research on marijuana is now more extensive than it has ever been, but more work needs to be done.

We do know, however, as recently as 2018, a study at Oxford University tells us that smoking recreational marijuana has a significant negative impact on developing brains. Marijuana lowers IQ points, triggers underlying mental health problems, and can be hazardous to a person’s heart and lungs. Do we really want to promote the use of recreational marijuana under these circumstances?

Are we willing to create a group of people in our community who, because they smoke marijuana on a regular basis, are less productive, fail to parent their children and drive around impaired? Those are the problems we see here every day at the District Attorney’s Office.

Now, more than ever, is a time for us all to work together to make our citizens workforce ready, with the ability to think clearly, the ability to drive, and the ability to pass a drug test for employment.

What does this all mean? This means that I will not have the authority of law enforcement and the authority of the district attorney to prosecute crimes usurped by any municipal body. We will continue to accept these cases from law enforcement, including the City of Racine, and handle them in a manner that benefits the offenders, not continue the cycle of drug use and debt. I strongly encourage Chief Howell to join me and follow state law, rather than this attempt to undermine the criminal justice system, and insure fairness for all residents of Racine County.

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Tricia Hanson is the district attorney for Racine County.

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