Ben Kollock wants people to be ticketed instead of charged with a crime for getting caught more than once with small amounts of marijuana in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Pictured: In this photo taken Wednesday June 20, 2012, David Kosmecki, left, talks to Idaho State Police Trooper Justin Klitch in Fruitland, Idaho. Kosmecki was stopped and charged with possession of marijuana after leaving Oregon. (Nigel Duara, The Associated Press)

‘The penalty is just so extreme, it’s insane’: Man on a mission to decriminalize marijuana in Wisconsin city

STEVENS POINT, Wis. — Ben Kollock was a kid when he learned an important life lesson from the cartoon character Captain Planet: If he sees an injustice in the world, he should do something about it.

Kollock sees an injustice in Stevens Point, and he’s following the lessons he learned from superheroes, the Stevens Point Journal reported. The 28-year-old wants the city to reform its policies surrounding marijuana possession to keep people caught with a small amount of the drug out of the criminal system.

One year ago, Kollock persuaded the Stevens Point City Council that $300 is too much money to charge people who are caught for the first time with up to 5 grams of marijuana. Now he’s calling for more reforms: He wants the city to decriminalize possession of up to 25 grams, or roughly an ounce, of marijuana. He also wants people to be ticketed instead of charged with a crime for getting caught more than once with small amounts of marijuana.

“It makes so much sense,” Kollock said. “Our police officers, if they’re spending less time trying to prosecute and fine people that are using marijuana in their home and instead going after people who are hurting people, who are assaulting people, child predators, going after people who actually do violent crimes and thefts. That’s where their time be better spent.”

In 2015, the City Council approved Kollock’s request to slash the fine against first-time offenders from $300 to $100. This year, he requested the additional changes, a plea that local officials are now considering. Under state law, a second conviction under the state’s criminal code for possessing marijuana is a felony — which can affect everything from a convict’s right to vote or own a gun to getting financial aid for school. Kollock said he believes that is too harsh for someone caught with a small amount of weed. He suggests the fine increase by $50 each time for each next offense, maxing out at $500.

City Council member Meleesa Johnson, who leads the committee that is considering Kollock’s request, said she is open to a conversation about what options and authority the city has. She said she wants everyone to do their research and know all the potential consequences of further decriminalization before the committee makes a recommendation to the full council.

Wisconsin law allows municipalities to handle marijuana possession through a civil discipline process if the local district attorney declines to press charges or if his charges are dismissed. Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske said he takes officers’ discretion seriously regarding whether an alleged violation of the law should be handled through civil or criminal processes.

“The officers who are the closest to the people suspected of violating the law have the best understanding at that time of the offense,” he said. “They have the most facts of why they made the decision at the scene, and I think that’s really important.”

Molepske said he is meeting with the city’s attorney and police chief to discuss options. Chief Marty Skibba said every incident is different, and more charging options would give officers discretion to find a charge that fits the offense.

He said officers on scene know best, based on all of circumstances, whether a violation should move through the criminal system or can be addressed with a ticket. People who stay out of trouble for years between offenses should not necessarily be punished the same as someone who is suspected of the same offense just weeks apart, he said.

Hull resident Charles Green, 30, joined Kollock in advocating to the city this month for reform. He said he is opposed to the country’s war on drugs and thinks the punishment people face for having marijuana is too stiff.

Although he doesn’t live in the city, Green said he believes times are changing and it’s time for Wisconsin to catch up to other states’ policies regarding the drug, which he will advocate for when he can.

“The penalty is just so extreme, it’s insane,” Green said.

Kollock’s interest in marijuana policy started when he was being treated for leukemia in 2014. None of the medications doctors offered helped treat the nausea and anxiety he experienced as a result of his treatments, and he said doctors told him they would have prescribed medical marijuana if it were legal in Wisconsin.

The experience inspired Kollock to research the science and politics of the herbal drug, and he decided that he needed to do something about how much trouble people can get in if they’re caught with a small mount of weed. Although Kollock said he does not smoke, he doesn’t think people should face criminal charges for having a few grams in their possession.

Kollock said he looks forward to the city exploring additional changes, a conversation expected to continue in the coming months.

“I’m trying to tackle the problem that I see,” he said.


Via AP Member Exchange. Information from: Stevens Point Journal Media