Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin introduced legislation recently that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana for those 21 and older.
“How many more people have to be lost before we actually get the courage to do something about it?” said Rep. David Crowley, of Milwaukee.
Nearly 15,000 adults in Wisconsin were arrested in 2018 for marijuana possession, a 3% increase from 2017, according to data from the state Department of Justice. Data from the Department of Corrections shows that prison admissions for black people were higher than whites for marijuana possession in 2016.
In Milwaukee, black people accounted for 72% of arrests for possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, despite making up just 39% of the population between 2012 and 2015, according to research by the Public Policy Forum. Numerous studies have shown that black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rate. reports the AP.
Barnes, who is black and from Milwaukee, said he thinks having small amounts of marijuana possession is a “victimless crime” and that it’s a waste of law enforcement resources to enforce the current law.
“Marijuana is not a reason to serve a prison sentence,” Barnes said.
A first-time offense for marijuana possession is punishable under state law by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Second and subsequent offenses are felonies punishable by up to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
According to the AP. the bill would decriminalize possessing, distributing and manufacturing up to 28 grams of pot or more than two marijuana plants. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers earlier this year called for decriminalizing up to 25 grams.
Democrats this year have also introduced separate bills to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.”We need to rethink and modernize our marijuana laws in Wisconsin,” said Rep. Sheila Stubbs, co-sponsor of the decriminalization bill.
Republicans showed no signs of budging Wednesday from their opposition of marijuana reform.
“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,” said Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate’s majority leader and a candidate for Congress.
There is not support for it among Assembly Republicans either, said Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman Kit Beyer. Vos, who has been open to a limited form of medical marijuana, remains opposed to decriminalization, Beyer said.
“We’re not going to decriminalize it so people can carry around baggies of weed all over the state,” Vos said in February.
Despite Republican opposition, there appears to be broad support in Wisconsin for some form of marijuana legalization.
The Marquette University Law School poll in April showed 83% of respondents support legalizing medical marijuana and 59% back full legalization.