A state lawmaker introduced a bill on 4/20 that would help decriminalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin law currently states any possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor, which is punishable by six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Any subsequent offense of possessing any amount of marijuana is considered a felony.
Under the proposed bill, if a person is caught with up to 25 grams of marijuana, they would receive a fine, but no jail time. These fines are determined by the municipality.
Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, the author of the bill, said it does not make sense to get a felony for a small possession of marijuana.
“Having that felony on your background check, it limits people’s ability to find jobs, stifles their ability to pay for education in some cases and also restricts them from voting for a certain amount of time,” Barnes said.
Barnes said racial disparities regarding marijuana possession contribute to the urgency of this bill. African-Americans are five times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite no data that shows usage of marijuana is five times higher in black people, he said.
Joe Erato, president of the Wisconsin Cannabis Project, said Barnes’ bill would help reduce the stigma associated with marijuana. He said punishments given over marijuana often do not reflect the offense.
“Punishment should be handed down relative to the threat opposed to society … not handing out felonies for something as simple as carrying a flower,” Erato said.
Barnes said it costs $30,000 dollars to incarcerate a person for one year. He said for a small amount of marijuana possession, these funds are not the best way to spend taxpayer dollars.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has also introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana in Wisconsin. Barnes said while there are people not ready for full legalization, the argument of decriminalization should be an option.
Take a hit of this: marijuana legalization bill introducedWith past legislation and attempts to legalize marijuana having faded, a new bill introduced Monday would legalize weed in Wisconsin. Rep. Melissa Sargent, Read…
In an interview with Capitol City Sunday, Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, said he did not believe there was much Republican support for the legalization of marijuana.
“From a personal standpoint, I’ve dealt with this personally in my family with addictions and I think if you look at the danger that we have with it … the benefits don’t outweigh the risks in our minds,” Kapenga said.
Gov. Scott Walker’s office has said he’d oppose Sargent’s bill.
Republicans hold the majority in the state Legislature. Barnes said he does not believe it will be easy for the bill to pass, but the conversation around decriminalization is necessary.
Barnes said the fight against marijuana has placed too many people behind bars and has broken up too many families.
“The war on drugs has been a failed operation,” Barnes said. “It has cost us too much in dollars and cents, and it’s cost us too much in human potential. … It has been detrimental to the entire country.”
Barnes is calling for a public hearing to be scheduled for the bill.