Although many believe it to be a long shot, a group of lawmakers in Wisconsin are working toward a statewide policy change that would eliminate the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession.
Earlier this week, Democratic Senator Fred Risser, along with Representatives Evan Goyke, Jonathan Brostoffand, and Republican Representative Adam Jarchow dragged a piece of legislation up to the steps of the Capitol designed to decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana.
Instead of jamming petty pot offenders up in the criminal justice system, the proposal would simply force those busted for this offense to pay a small fine of $100 – a huge improvement over the current penalty of up to six months in jail and fines reaching $1,000.
Unfortunately, because the state’s legislative wheels are being turned by mostly Republican influence, Jarchow does not have a whole lot of faith that the bill will attract the kind of support it needs to go the distance.
“I’m not naive to think that we are going to probably pass this and get it signed into law," Jarchow told the Capital Times. “This to me is a first step.
He says the primary mission of this modest proposal is not to get a law on the books this session, but to open up the discussion so the state can address the issue more seriously in the future.
Some of the polls conducted by Jarchow’s office indicate that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of the state’s residents are in favor of less restrictive marijuana policies.
He believes most people support decriminalization “because the costs to society are so high with our current course.”
High cost is a concept not lost on the State Public Defender’s office, which has been pushing for marijuana decriminalization for years in an effort to conserve resources.
"It’s meant to be a cost-saving measure,” Adam Plotkin from the Office of the State Public Defender, told the Times. “By decriminalizing you no longer provide representation. You also achieve savings in prosecutors, law enforcement and corrections.”
Jarchow concurs with the PD’s philosophy, pointing out that 80 people were put in jail for marijuana possession in 2016, costing the state well over $2 million to keep them behind bars.
“Maybe we could get a public hearing and we could flesh out some of these issues we’ve been talking about, some of these costs,” Jarchow said. “That would help lead the way to further reforms.”
As it stands, 21 states have passed similar laws.