Court Watch

Pot Arrests Vary Wildly By County

Some outstate counties have far more marijuana charges and felony charges per resident.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Jun 17th, 2019 01:58 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), via Wikimedia Commons.

No. cases with cannabis charges

No. cases with cannabis charges

We are through 13 of 72 counties in our review of marijuana charges filed in Wisconsin last year, but it is already clear that marijuana laws are unevenly enforced throughout the state. The data is being studied as part of a project by the Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter.

The data shows the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office filed one criminal case containing a marijuana charge for every 3,292 county residents, by far the lowest charging rate in the state thus far; on the other end of the scale, Burnett County filed one pot case for every 169 residents, the highest charging rate.

Other factoids:

  • Brown County (population 262,052) and Columbia County (57,248) both have much smaller populations than Milwaukee County (952,085) does, but both issued more total marijuana cases than Milwaukee County did.
  • The share of cases that included felony marijuana charges also varied widely, from 7 percent in Bayfield County to 53 percent in Clark County.
Percent with felony cannabis charges

Percent with felony cannabis charges

These aren’t the only disparities that this investigation is finding. Follow along as this project documents the wildly erratic enforcement of cannabis laws in Wisconsin.

Additional data for each county is posted on The 2019 Pot Page and we’ll be updating and expanding our charts in future stories.

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.

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