Decriminalize it. That’s the message from some Democrats in Madison, and advocates for easing the state’s marijuana laws. Their bill would decriminalize 28 grams or less of marijuana in the state. Alan Robinson is Executive Director of NORML Wisconsin.
“Robin Vos is on record saying that he’s not for people running around the state with little baggies of marijuana,” Robinson said during a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday. “They already are. And they’re not asking him if they can.”
First-time criminal marijuana possession charges are treated as a misdemeanor under state law, but second and subsequent criminal offenses can be charged as a Class I felony, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three and a half years.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald – both Republicans – are opposed to any easing on marijuana laws. “I’ve long been an opponent to any type of marijuana legalization and doubt that any proposals currently being floated will gain support from Republicans in the Senate,” Fitzgerald said. “There isn’t support for marijuana decriminalization in the Assembly Republican caucus and Speaker Vos remains opposed to it,” said Vos’ Communications Director Kit Beyer.
“Speaker Vos is one of 63 Republican members, and just because he is against this bill doesn’t mean that as Democrats, or as anybody who’s a member of the legislature, that we shouldn’t put forth bills that can actually make true change in peoples’ lives,” said Representative David Crowley (D-Milwaukee).
Numbers show the existing criminal statute disproportionately impacts communities of color. “The mass incarceration of African American men who have been disproportionately charged and imprisoned for low-level marijuana offenses is something that must be urgently addressed,” said the proposal’s author, Representative Sheila Stubbs (D-Madison).
“Look at the drinking laws in this state. We’ve got like three of the top ten drunkest cities in America here in the state of Wisconsin,” said Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who joined lawmakers at the press conference. “There is more danger, more harm being done by people who are under the influence of alcohol than marijuana.”
Simple marijuana possession and/or use is not a reason for anyone to serve a prison sentence, lose out on a job, nor lose their voting rights. Today, I stood with @RepStubbs and lawmakers who introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/CXiqX7l7r0
— Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes (@LGMandelaBarnes) October 30, 2019
State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison), who’s also on board with decriminalization, authored a similar measure in 2017 with Assembly Republican Adam Jarchow. It failed to advance.
According to the Marquette Law School Poll conducted in April, 59% of respondents believe marijuana should be made legal in Wisconsin. That was an increase from 50% who favored legalization when the question was first asked in 2013. In the most recent poll, 36% said they opposed legalization.