Op Ed

Reduce Penalties for Pot Possession

Second offense possession still a felony in Wisconsin.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Aug 7th, 2017 02:14 pm
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Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

While other states are legalizing medical and recreational use of marijuana, Wisconsin still makes the second offense of simple possession a felony that carries maximum penalties of three years and six months in prison and a $10,000 fine.And there is the ancillary damage done to people convicted of this crime — the felony record that guts life chances for decent employment and some government benefits; the potential of spending days in jail after arrest that can result in lost jobs and disrupted families; the loss of the right to vote while under the court/Department of Corrections supervision; and the permanent loss of the right to have firearms.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative spent dozens of hours reviewing Milwaukee County possession of marijuana – second offense files. Certain patterns of enforcement — where arrests are made and the demographics of the arrested and charged — are clear and disturbing. We have relevant details of the first five cases examined posted and will update the chart and map regularly.

The State Public Defender’s office recommended in its 2017-19 budget request that first and second offense marijuana possession cases both be considered municipal ordinance violations rather than crimes. (Currently, simple possession is a misdemeanor for the first offense under state law, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.) That recommendation went exactly nowhere, even though it would save the office about $500,000.

Various bills have been introduced to change the rules on pot possession, but their futures are uncertain, to say the least. But the law clearly, definitely needs to change.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

More about the Legalizing of Marijuana

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