Wisconsin's capital city just passed one of the most progressive cannabis decriminalization laws in the entire country, making it pretty much legal for nearly anyone to smoke up in public.
This past Tuesday, the Madison Common Council voted unanimously to remove most penalties against cannabis possession and public use. Under this new ordinance, anyone 18-years or older is allowed to possess up to 28 grams of weed (almost an ounce) and consume it in public or on private property. Possession of weed paraphernalia, which used to carry a $500 fine, will also be decriminalized entirely.
There are still some prohibitions in place, but most of these are only punishable by a $1 fine. Anyone caught with more than 28 grams of weed, smoking weed in a vehicle, or bringing pot onto school property can be fined a single buck. And anyone busted for smoking weed on private property without the owner's explicit permission can also get hit with this small fine. Public consumption of pot is also banned in areas where public tobacco use is prohibited.
As progressive as it is, the new decriminalization ordinance is not full legalization. Anyone caught selling pot, or driving under the influence of weed, can still be prosecuted under the current prohibition laws. Wisconsin also continues to prohibit any form of cannabis on a state level, which means that Madison residents could still be arrested for pot by state police. Under state law, anyone arrested for minor cannabis possession or consumption can still be jailed for up to 6 months and fined up to $1,000.
Madison actually has a long history as one of the most weed-friendly cities in the US. The city decriminalized weed way back in 1977, reducing the fines for weed possession to $100 or less. But even under this original ordinance, city police have continued disproportionately enforcing weed prohibition against minority communities. City Alderman Michel E. Verveer (D), sponsor of the new ordinance, said that it was time to put an end to these “undeniable racial disparities.”
“Based on a 20-year study of casual possession of marijuana ordinance citations issued by the Madison Police Department, approximately 51 percent of those citations were issued to whites, and a little over 43 percent were issued to Blacks,” Verveer said at a city council meeting, Marijuana Moment reports. “That of course is despite the fact that our Black brothers and sisters in no way are anywhere close to 43 percent of our community’s population today.”
“The reality is that we shouldn’t even be talking about this tonight,” Verveer continued, according to WORT 89.9FM. “It’s preposterous and outrageous that the Wisconsin state legislature has not moved long ago toward legal and regulated adult use of cannabis like many states have across the country including many of our neighboring states.”
The Wisconsin state legislature has remained resistant to legalization, even though pot is legally available in nearby Illinois and Michigan. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) has been a vocal advocate of cannabis reform, however, and criticized lawmakers for failing to even legalize medical marijuana. Last year, voters in three different state jurisdictions also voted to approve non-binding resolutions in favor of adult-use legalization, indicating that a majority of the state's voters are also totally down with putting an end to prohibition.