Edgar Mendez

Should Marijuana Be Legalized?

Milwaukee legislators offer their views.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Sep 1st, 2014 10:29 am
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Young girl wearing leather jacket smoking a joint

Young girl wearing leather jacket smoking a joint

Marijuana use, both medical and recreational, is becoming more acceptable in many places around the country. Colorado and Washington have legalized use of the drug and many municipalities have decriminalized it.

In Wisconsin, legislation was introduced to legalize recreational and medical marijuana use and other proposals have sought to reduce the penalties for marijuana possession. In April, Gov. Walker signed a bill legalizing cannibidiol, a marijuana extract, for use in treating children with some seizure syndromes. No other legislation related to marijuana has passed.

The penalty for marijuana possession in Wisconsin is harsh. After one conviction, a subsequent arrest is charged as a felony.

We asked state legislators two questions:

  1. Do you think marijuana should be legalized?
  2. Do you think the criminal penalties for marijuana possession should be changed? Why or why not?

Sen. Nikiya Harris-Dodd (6th District)

Nikiya Harris-Dodd

Nikiya Harris-Dodd

1. This past session, I supported Rep. Melissa Sargent’s bill to legalize marijuana because I believe that our state needs to begin focusing its resources on reducing mass incarceration and prioritizing public safety.

2. Sadly, our state is a glaring example of racial disparity in criminal justice. According to a 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wisconsin leads the nation in racial disparity in incarceration. In addition, over the past several decades, police enforcement of marijuana laws has disproportionately affected persons of color.

Instead of focusing our state resources on preventing violent crimes and stopping the prevalence of dangerous drugs such as heroin, Wisconsin has spent over $100 million in the last 10 years on marijuana arrests alone. This money is better spent allocating police resources to stop dangerous criminals who threaten the safety of our streets and neighborhoods.”

State Rep. Mandela Barnes (11th District)

Mandela Barnes

Mandela Barnes

1. With full legalization in the states of Colorado and Washington, every state has a huge opportunity to watch how the new laws impact these states’ communities and economies. So far, neither state has seen any kind of increase in crime or violence because of the legalization, and in fact, have seen spikes in revenue growth that can be used for a huge variety of the state’s needs. As far as Wisconsin, I think the best plan for our state is to begin with the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

2. Criminal penalties surrounding marijuana possession absolutely need to be addressed. Currently, there are thousands of arrests in the City of Milwaukee for marijuana possession. On top of the enormous cost savings that would result from decriminalization, both on the city and state levels, countless young African American men would no longer feel the disproportionate impacts of incarceration and felony records due to something as relatively harmless as marijuana possession.

Labeling somebody as a felon for possession has far-reaching implications that not only rob our community of somebody who might grow to be an entrepreneur, philanthropic pioneer, professional athlete or political leader, but it also robs these individuals and their families of a proud future. I plan to advocate heavily in the coming legislative session for the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

Also, earlier this summer, I was appointed to the special Legislative Council Joint Committee on the Review of Criminal Penalties. In short, the scope of this committee is to identify current felonies that should be abolished or reduced to misdemeanors, among other things. I am confident that this topic will be explored in the coming months, as the committee considers various outmoded policies that are currently on the books in Wisconsin.

State Rep. Sandy Pasch (10th District-Shorewood)

Sandy Pasch

Sandy Pasch

1. As a first step, I believe legalizing medical marijuana is the right and compassionate thing to do for those dealing with chronic conditions. The past three sessions, I co-sponsored bills which would legalize medical marijuana.This legislation would have allowed access to medical marijuana for patients with a number of debilitating diseases and conditions to receive a prescription for marijuana from their doctors without fear of prosecution.  Unfortunately, there was not enough support to pass these pieces of legislation into law.

In other states, such as Washington and Colorado, there have been debates and successful legislation passed which legalized the use of marijuana. Legalizing marijuana is anticipated to help mend the budget of these states. There has been talk about discussing the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin; however, nothing has come up definitively. We have a unique opportunity to see what happens in Washington and Colorado first before jumping on the bandwagon.

2. I do not support any legislation that creates additional criminal penalties for possession of marijuana in the State of Wisconsin; we have more important issues to focus on in our society than incarcerating non-violent offenders. This is especially true as seen in your last special report: “Black men bear the brunt of unequal enforcement of marijuana laws.” I believe we need to examine current state laws related to alcohol and drug use. It is not uncommon for decisions on criminality to be based on media and public outrage, rather than scientific facts and thoughtful analysis. Therefore I do support medical marijuana and decriminalizing marijuana usage as initial steps.

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (8th District)

JoCasta Zamarripa

JoCasta Zamarripa

1. I think Wisconsin needs to begin moving in that direction through incremental steps beginning with the legalization of medicinal marijuana use as well as reducing penalties and decriminalizing marijuana possession and recreational use in our state.  If we move in the direction of decriminalization with state oversight and regulation, Wisconsin would be able to find a better balance that would still penalize the trafficking of the drug on the black market while relieving our courts and correctional facilities of low level, often first-time offenders.

2. Again, I support the movement towards eventual legalization with the first step being decriminalization of marijuana possession. You have a plant that many people in this state smoke recreationally and the subsequent penalties for possession can ruin lives, cripple careers and separate families…not to mention overly strain our state’s prisons and correctional facilities.


State Rep. Evan Goyke (18th District)

Evan Goyke

Evan Goyke

1. “I don’t yet know if I support the legalization of marijuana. I am watching Washington and Colorado closely and am listening to both proponents and opponents here in Wisconsin.  I do believe there needs to be immediate changes to our enforcement and criminal justice responses to marijuana possession, which can be done without delay.”

2. I strongly support and have tried to champion changing how the criminal justice system treats marijuana possession.  Far too many young people are forever branded with the scarlet “felon” label due to a marijuana possession conviction.  If marijuana possession was treated the same as drunk driving, I believe many of the negative outcomes within the justice system would be reduced.”

11 thoughts on “Should Marijuana Be Legalized?”

  1. Mike says:

    I’m not sure about the rest of the country, but here in Houston where I live, I see little white crosses all over the roads saying killed by a drunk driver. I have never ever seen one that says killed by a stoned driver.

    God made marijuana naturally like all the rest of his amazing plants, ready for use when plucked out of the ground, and yet it’s illegal.

    God made grapes and potatoes to be eaten, and yet man takes them, bastardizes them, and turns them into alcohol, which kills people and is legal.

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  2. Brian Kelly says:

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days Are Numbered! Find a new career before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Furthermore,

    Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please all you prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

    Furthermore, if all you prohibitionists get when you look into that nice, big and shiny, crystal ball of yours, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest you return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money you shelled out for it, since it is obviously defective.

    The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

    If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

    Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

    Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

  3. Brant says:

    Marijuana never should have been illegal in the first place. There has never been any medical or scientific justification for prohibition. The historical record shows that marijuana prohibition was founded on racism and propaganda-based hysteria. It has been a decades-long crime against humanity which has needlessly harmed or destroyed the lives and livelihoods of countless people, while benefitting unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and drug cartels.

  4. Dug says:

    Public opinion is moving in the right direction all over the U.S. on cannabis legalization. It really is a matter of time. The real question is, How long should we continue arresting our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters for using a substance LESS dangerous than legal alcohol and tobacco?

  5. D says:

    There is really no point in banning it. It’s obvious how widespread it is and how much money we are losing by not taxing these addicts through the nose—–just like we do with the cigarette smokers and drinkers. We should throw the book at people who sell illegally, drive under the influence, and let business owners fire people for reeking of it/being high on the job. Make the age limit 21 and call it a day.

  6. Andy says:

    @Mike – They have indeed shown that THC is present in drivers during crashes at a higher ration than the number of people who use it. Thus, there is reason to believe it actually does increase a persons odds of getting in an accident. The government is actually now doing a full scale study to determine the effects of THC on impaired driving. It will be interesting to see the results.

    @Brian Kelly- You’re incorrect, Tobacco kills far more people than alcohol each year. Almost 10x the number of people actually. I realize that a cigarette has a lot more nasty stuff in it than smoking marijuana but at the same time find it ironic you talk about health concerns when another form of smoking is in fact the most unhealthy thing in our country.

    Despite these minor points, I’m open to seeing the longer term effects (pos and neg) in Washington and Colorado before making up my mind.

  7. Downthelaw says:

    Yes!!!

  8. PMD says:

    So legalize it and punish people for driving under the influence like we do with alcohol?

  9. StunnedByTheIgnorance says:

    “Smoking something else” is no longer an acceptable argument against the re-legalization of cannabis, as we (anyone who cares to do the research) all know that you don’t need to smoke marijuana to benefit from it’s affect. So we don’t need to have that discussion anymore. It’s a (quite juvenile actually) distraction used by those who want to keep our focus from the real issue.Sorry about that….
    “There isn’t enough research to justify the re-legalization of cannabis” is no longer an acceptable argument, since we (anyone who cares to do the research) all know that cannabis was banned based on ZERO scientific evidence to justify it’s prohibition and that we continue to deny any evidence to the contrary. Pro-cannabis reformers should not need to show evidence of innocence when prohibitionists lack the evidence needed to prove guilt (innocent until PROVEN guilty). There is no shortage of qualified professionals who eagerly await the debate they are due. No amount of lies make prohibition right. Sorry about that…
    “What about the children” is no longer an acceptable argument against the re-legalization of cannabis either, since we know that legal cannabis outlets are the only place you are guaranteed to see that age requirements are being upheld. Sorry about that too….
    We all know (again, anyone who cares to do the research) that cannabis was demonized by Anslinger and his cohorts with lies, while completely ignoring the recommendations of medical professionals at the time. We also know that cannabis users were further vilified by Richard Nixon in his attempt to oppress anti war factions in America. Those two points alone should be enough to force repeal.So sorry….
    Why aren’t Americans everywhere demanding we examine the actual recommendations made by those who were commissioned to determine whether or not to prohibit the use of cannabis? Every time re-legalization has been recommended (and even ordered by a judge ; DEA judge Francis Young) those recommendations were IGNORED. “They” want to ignore the discussion that prohibition is destroying America and the prohibitionists want to refocus our attention on their perceived reasons why we should continue it’s prohibition, by continuing to spout made up dangers. This is completely backwards and would be laughable logic if it weren’t so serious.
    In this country we HATE to admit we were wrong (somehow believing that it is a sign of weakness). Guess what though, it’s time to admit that we were lied to. It is finally time to demand the debate we know we are due. No more sticking our fingers in our ears to drown out the truth. We don’t allow children to do it and we shouldn’t allow our politicians to do it either.

  10. jessica says:

    Hello, my name is Jess Gawlik. I was diagnosed with epilepsy when i was 2 yrs old. after all these yrs the doctors have exhausted every single AED (anti-epilepsy drug) on me, even sometimes to a point of making the seizures worse or causing the medication to become toxic in my system becaquse they were giving me to high of a does and to many AED’S at one time.
    Now i only have a few options; 1) let them cut out a large part of my brain to slow down the seizures 2) have whats called a VNS put in my chest the runs a wire to the vegus nerve and send a lil electric shocks to my brain when it senses a seizure coming, along with a maganent watch i would get where to stimulate the vns just in case i could feel it coming or 3) LEGALIZE MARIJUANA FOR THOSE WHO CAN NOT FIND ANY OTHER NONE LIFE THREATENING INVASIVE SURGERY!!!!!!!

  11. skingirl says:

    Yes we should legalize it & build a plant in the inner city right in Milwaukee – tax the sale of it, open Dispensaries, build other things with it too to create job$. Its a win win!

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