Marinette ordinance bans pot before it's legalized

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MARINETTE, Wis. (WBAY) - Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot says a new council-approved ordinance makes marijuana illegal to use, buy and sell— no matter what the state decides.

"Law enforcement doesn't need this drug on top of all their other issues they have, and we'd like to prevent that from happening locally— even if it does happen at the state level,” he told Action 2 News.

The local ordinance banning it should trump state-wide legalization. More than thirty states have laws allowing local cities to be "dry communities” banning the sale— and in some cases, consumption and possession— of alcohol.

This ordinance is just like that, but applies to pot.

"There are many towns that actually ban alcohol use. And they say, 'we're going to be a dry town'-- even though the state law says that you can drink if you're over 21. So you can be stricter than the state law, you just can't be more lenient,” said Executive Director of Preventative Services in Menominee Intermediate Schools Karianne Lesperance.

Medical marijuana is already legal across the state border in Michigan, and because of that, law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin say they've seen a steep rise in drug-related activity. Experts say the legalization of recreational marijuana will likely be on the 2018 ballot for Michigan next year, and community leaders in Marinette want to prepare for any change that could be coming to Wisconsin state laws.

"With things happening in other states in the U.S., it's not far-fetched [for Wisconsin to legalize marijuana]- whether it would happen now or the near future, I think the thought is to get ahead of it before the law is passed in the state legislature and then we have something in place locally,” said Genisot.

Leaders say potential pot growers may want to set up dispensaries in anticipation of the legalization of marijuana. Police in Marinette say, it's best to stay ahead of that and ban it ahead of time.

Those who pushed for the creation of the local ordinance say the number of students who recently admitted to using or being exposed to marijuana is alarming.

“This all kind of came about from a survey that we do every other year in our local school districts, and it's showing now that marijuana is actually being more widely used among any other drug in the community, and it has always been alcohol up until 2017,” said Lesperance.

"So we spoke with our law enforcement in the community and our schools and they all agreed that marijuana has kind of overtaken some of their job duties in the communities and is really taking a lot of their time,” Lesperance explained.

Lesperance worked with Marinette Police Officer Scott Ries to research and come up with the plan for Marinette. She traveled to California to see how different areas like Newport Beach—which has banned marijuana locally—were different from neighboring towns that do not ban pot.

"We were seeing it being smoked out in public, children were around it, it was in every store we went into, you could get it anywhere, they had people out on the street saying 'come talk to us about getting a card'- it was just so in your face, that we could tell the difference between the two towns,” she said.

Lesperance says she understands and respects marijuana extract's positive medical effect for those who need it; her organization is promoting its use in a pill form from a pharmacist only.

The ban is already in effect, and the city wants people with medical marijuana cards to understand that it is not legal for them to consume in Wisconsin, which has reportedly been confusing for marijuana users crossing into the state.