Oshkosh Council eyes reduction in marijuana fine, hears stark COVID warning

By Miles Maguire

The Oshkosh Common Council directed city staff Tuesday to draft an ordinance that would reduce the fine for possession of marijuana from its current level of $200.

But Deputy Mayor Matt Mugeraurer expressed strong opposition to taking up the topic, and it’s not clear where the council might end up with a new fine amount. 

In a separate part of the meeting, Winnebago County Health Department Director Doug Gieryn issued a strong warning about the spread of COVID-19. “Cases are trending up very quickly,” he told the council.

The discussion about marijuana grew snippy at one point as Mugeraurer criticized Council Member Aaron Wojciechowski, although not by name, for bringing up the issue. This drew a rebuke from Mayor Lori Palmeri about personalizing the discussion and a request from Mugeraurer that she not interrupt him when he was speaking. 

Muegeraurer said he has “no interest in lowering the fine” and suggested that Wojciechowski was pursuing the topic to score political points and without doing enough preliminary research on his own. 

Wojciechowski said there were ample reasons for lowering the marijuana penalty, including the fact that other parts of the country have decriminalized possession and the fact that other crimes, such as destruction of property, carry lower fines in Oshkosh. 

The council discussion touched on a variety of related issues, including the current street cost of the drug and the effect on drug use by young people if the fine went down.

City Manager Mark Rohloff said staff would prepare an ordinance that would lower the fine to $75. But he noted that an ordinance generally goes through two readings before adoption, which would provide ample opportunity for the council to change the fine amount.

At the end of the meeting, the discussion turned to COVID.

“We’re pretty much on a tear,” Gieryn said. “We’re seeing far more cases in younger persons.”

The county is now recording about 30 new cases a day, compared to about two a day a month ago, he said. 

“Our biggest concern is that we have a large young population that is completely unprotected” as schools are about to reopen. 

Although young people may have less severe symptoms, they can still spread the disease, he warned. 

He urged residents to take protective measures, such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

There have been about 103 cases of breakthrough infections in county residents who have been vaccinated. But he said this is a “very small percentage” of local cases.

“The vaccine is very protective,” he said.

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