Legal in one state, illegal in the other: The risk of buying Weed along the Michigan-Wisconsin border

Legal in one state, illegal in the other: The risk of buying weed along the Michigan-Wisconsin border

Legal Marijuana in Michigan Leads to Surge in Marijuana Citations for Wisconsin Residents Across the Border.

Heather Robertson has been pulled over for a burned-out light above her license plate, for a louder-than-average exhaust system and for her car’s Oneida Nation tribal plates, which officers sometimes don’t recognize.

She thinks there’s another reason.

Robertson works at Rize, a recreational marijuana dispensary in Menominee, Michigan, but lives across the border in Wisconsin, where marijuana is still illegal.

“They’re probably looking for the people that are buying a lot and going back and forth,” she said. “But I work here, you know?”

She says she was pulled over coming home from work five times in August and September alone.

“They never wrote me any tickets or anything,” Robertson said. “They would pull me over and say, ‘Is there product in your car?’”

The proliferation of recreational marijuana shops on the Michigan side of the border has resulted in a proliferation of marijuana citations on the Wisconsin side.

In Florence County, where a stretch of U.S. 2 runs from Michigan into Wisconsin and back into Michigan, sheriff’s deputies issued four citations for marijuana possession in 2019. Recreational sales began in Michigan in December of that year. Last year, they issued 83.

Police in the city of Marinette gave out 129 citations in 2019 and 548 last year.

This year, the pace is slower – they’d handed out 224 citations as of early October – despite the five recreational marijuana dispensaries that have opened across the river in Menominee since July.

Marijuana enthusiasts circulate rumors that Wisconsin police are staking out dispensaries from Mastodon Township to Menominee, watching for plates from “America’s Dairyland” and making sure there’s a patrol car lying in wait when Wisconsin customers cross back over the border.

“We have people call us sometimes and be like, ‘Hey, just so you know, they’re over the bridge in Marinette pulling people over,’” Robertson said.

Officials from Wisconsin law enforcement agencies along the Michigan border say they don’t have the time, the manpower or the inclination to conduct surveillance on marijuana dispensaries and that they don’t conduct targeted marijuana enforcement operations.

“Our highest priority is interdicting fentanyl and heroin and methamphetamine,” said Randy Miller, who has been sheriff in Marinette County since January. “That is our highest priority. That was what I campaigned on.”

Marijuana has simply become more available, they say. The customers who buy it legally in Michigan often don’t take great pains to conceal it when they cross the border. If an officer sees a bag with a dispensary logo during a traffic stop, that officer is going to search further, according to police interviewed for this story.

“You could go on U.S. 2 and stop people all day long, and they’re going to have weed on them,” said Florence County Chief Deputy TJ Peterson. “I mean, there’s dispensaries at both ends. You could do it all day long.”


On April 21, the Marinette County Sheriff’s Office posted a photograph on Facebook of Sander, one of its police dogs, seated behind a table filled with colorfully wrapped packets.

“Law Enforcement was hard at work on 4/20 in Marinette County, making numerous drug arrests,” the post read. “One stop resulted in the seizure of over 1.5 kilograms of THC products.”

It was shared hundreds of times, drawing thousands of comments. They were not, by and large, supportive.

“Some of the hate that came across there, you would not expect that from people who are proponents of recreational type marijuana that’s supposed to relax you and make you a more gentle, calm person,” said Miller, who joined the department in 2004 and was elected sheriff last year.

Wisconsin may be an island of enforcement amid a sea of legalization, he said, but he still has to enforce the law.

Which isn’t as onerous as it used to be. In most cases, marijuana possession by itself will draw only a ticket. In Marinette County, the fine is $263.50.

Even the two men caught with the haul prompting the Facebook brag only received a citation.

“That guy probably should have been in jail,” Miller said. “He wasn’t.”

Miller promised in his campaign for sheriff to get the department a fourth drug-sniffing dog, so that there would be at least one working on every shift.

But harder drugs are his concern.

“We have overdose deaths. We have near overdose deaths. We’re continuously using Narcan to try to save people,” he said, “and fortunately been able to save quite a few people that way. But it’s a huge issue.”

The number of marijuana citations issued by his office hasn’t risen sharply with the arrival of legal recreational weed in Michigan. It was 114 in 2019 and 131 last year. The overwhelming majority of those citations start with traffic stops, he said.

‘His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree’

That’s how Kay Lynn Olesen’s started.

She was on U.S. 141 coming back from the Lume dispensary in Iron Mountain. She’d been riding with a friend, she said, who put the bag with joints in it underneath the passenger seat where it was still visible.

Police pulled her over near Wausaukee because her license plate light didn’t work and she didn’t use a turn signal when merging.

The deputy “just happened to see the corner of the bag and it was like his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree,” she said. “(He said), ‘You were at the dispensary.’ I was like, ‘Well, yeah, obviously you see the bag. I can’t deny it now.’”

Olesen is 23. She lives in Green Bay, where possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized. And, in early October, she came to the courthouse in Marinette to contest the ticket, “mainly because he acted like I was smoking it while I was actively driving, when it was all completely sealed and underneath my seat.”

She’d like to see Wisconsin legalize marijuana, like Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota. She doesn’t have much hope that it will “because Wisconsin is such a big supporter and … exporter of alcohol. … That’s our thing. That’s what everybody knows Wisconsin (for). We’re voted the drunkest state all the time.”


Every day, more than 18,000 cars travel the Interstate Bridge that connects downtown Menominee with downtown Marinette.

Marinette is booming, Police Chief Jon Lacombe said. Marinette Marine, which builds ships for the U.S. Navy, has added hundreds of jobs in recent years. The increase in people coming in and out of the city has increased his department’s calls for service by 38% over last year. Felonies are up.

His officers are too busy to be targeting marijuana users, he said.

“Sometimes during the day, we’re running with two cops when we’re working on the road and there’s just no time,” he said.

Marijuana possessions citations cost more in Marinette, $439 apiece.

When Michigan legalized recreational marijuana, “revenue picked up because of all the people who thought if they bought legally in Michigan, they could bring it here,” said John Mabry, who served as Marinette’s police chief for nine years before retiring in 2021. “And they couldn’t. And they tried.”

But revenue was never the concern, he said.

“A very little bit of money comes back to the police department,” Lacombe said. “This is not a built-in budget thing where, OK, we’re going to (pay for) all of our squad cars out of the traffic ordinance citations.”

The city does get a substantial share of the fines: $333 from each ticket, according to City Treasurer and Finance Director Jackie Miller. But they make up a small share of Marinette’s overall budget.

In 2022, when its budget was about $14 million, the city brought in $230,213 from all court fines, not just those related to marijuana. Marinette has budgeted $245,000 for court fines this year.

Lacombe grew up outside of Marinette. His parents owned a feed mill. Police officers would stop in. He started doing ride-alongs in high school, joined the department after college, went to work with the drug unit.

“It’s no secret that back when heroin first broke out, mid-2000s, that Marinette was this big epidemic area, and we had a big enforcement on it,” he said.

Marijuana wasn’t the focus then, he said. And it’s not the focus now, he claims.

And there are silver linings to legalization, he said. Drug cartels set up grow operations in the forests of northern Wisconsin more than a decade ago, “13,000 or 14,000 plants and people from California attending to this stuff and that was dangerous. That was a dangerous thing for people who (went) trout fishing or out in the woods walking around.”

The companies that sell legal marijuana in Michigan don’t constitute that sort of threat, he said, and the product they sell is less likely to be tainted.

“If you get five people overdosing on their stuff, someone’s going to come in and investigate,” Lacombe said.


Fred Popp is the police chief in Peshtigo, a Wisconsin town of about 3,400 people just a few miles from Marinette. His department hands out maybe a dozen marijuana citations a year.

He expects it to be legal soon.

“I think most officers realize it’s coming and most officers are saying, ‘So what. It’s been overdue,’” he said.

There are young officers who can get “a little hardcore,” he said, people who come out of the academy thinking, “I’m here to save the world and that means marijuana is no different than fentanyl, fentanyl is no different than meth, meth is no different than alcohol.”

“But as you get more experience, that black and white becomes a little bit grayer,” he said.

It is a measure of how imminent legalization feels that, when the Florence County Sheriff’s Office acquired its first drug-sniffing dog, the dog purposefully wasn’t trained to look for marijuana.

“If it were to become legal, where does that leave our dog?” Peterson said. “In court, if we pull somebody over, the dog hits on the car, we find a pound of meth and our dog was trained in marijuana, how do we know what it smelled?”

Giving up a few marijuana citations, he said, seemed like a small price to pay.

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