The Dane County, Wisconsin, District Attorney's Office will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession cases involving less than 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of pot. Prosecutors said it wasn't an effort to decriminalize marijuana, merely recognition of limited resources and setting priorities for the office.
"There's been some adjustment in our policies," Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard told reporters March 1. While Blanchard acknowledged that state law defines marijuana possession as a crime, he said his office had different priorities. "We're simply going more wholesale to saying 25 grams or less of possession of marijuana -- not a crime."
With Dane County having the same number of prosecutors it had 20 years ago, prosecuting marijuana possession offenses cannot take priority over other crimes, Blanchard said. "We're about to have the same number of prosecutors in this office that we had in 1988," he noted. "We struggle to staff child abuse cases, so when it comes to something like marijuana possession we are not going to be handling it as aggressively as we could."
While state law mandates up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for simple marijuana possession, Dane County residents will now be looking at only a citation. In Madison, a ticket for pot possession could cost up to $109, but in some smaller Dane County communities, the fines could be much steeper, as in Fitchburg, where users could be hit with a $1,300 ticket. County communities without a local marijuana ordinance can submit cases to the District Attorney's Office, which will issue citations for violating the county anti-marijuana ordinance. That carries a fine of up to $310.
"Marijuana possession is one of the least significant cases we get in our office," Blanchard said. Cases with victims -- such as sexual and physical assaults and thefts -- take priority, he said. The county faces much more serious drug problems than marijuana, Blanchard said. "I don't think we have a marijuana problem in Dane County. I think we have a heroin problem. I think we have a crack problem... I think we have a much larger alcohol problem than we have a marijuana problem."