Politics & Government
4:40 pm
Tue January 21, 2014

Wisconsin to Get Tougher on Pot Possession

Credit Photos.com

Nearly half of America’s states have eased up on the use of marijuana, but Wisconsin is moving toward further criminalization of the drug.

Some states now allow its use for medical purposes; Wisconsin does not. Other states have decriminalized pot or even legalized it. But in Wisconsin, quite a few legislators want to get tougher.

Currently, Wisconsin law states that, for a first offense, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor, punishable by 6 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Any subsequent offense is considered a felony, punishable by 3.5 years and/or a $10,000 fine.

The Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday approved a bill that would give local governments more power to penalize marijuana use.

Right now, municipalities can enact or enforce ordinances prohibiting possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana. But they cannot prosecute for possession above 25 grams or for second offenses for possession of any amount.

Under the new bill, municipalities would be able to prohibit the possession of any amount of marijuana and issue citations and prosecute for second offenses, if the district attorney declines to file charges.

Republican Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says authorities in his district are frustrated when they arrest people for marijuana possession, but the cases don’t go anywhere.

"You have local resources that are being expended by the police department in working towards keeping society safe, and they are having their efforts being rebuffed by the district attorney, possibly," Thiesfeldt says.

While Thiesfeldt claims communities would be better off prosecuting more pot crimes, Democratic Assemblyman Evan Goyke predicts taxpayers costs would increase.

"What happens when we try to collect $200 from someone who doesn’t have $200, they don’t pay it. And they get a warrant for their arrest and then they sit in their county jails and then they don’t pay the citation. This is a terrible way to try to collect money," Goyke says.

Other Democrats say further criminalization of marijuana in Wisconsin could hurt people who might use it for pain relief. The bill has already cleared the Senate, and now goes to Gov. Walker for his signature.

Half of registered voters in Wisconsin support legalizing marijuana, while 45 percent oppose it, according to an October 2013 Marquette University Law School poll.

On WUWM's Facebook page, many of the comments were against the bill. Some want medicinal marijuana legalized here.

"For all the people with MS in this state, we will continue to be looked at as criminals instead of one of the many disease-ridden people that we are," Kattie Rouselatos writes. "How about we focus on drunk driving laws before going after the people who really need this drug!"

Others posted in favor of decriminalizing pot altogether.

"First, if you are going to be tougher on pot be tougher on alcohol," writes Stef Gerber Lorello. "Pretty sure people are more violent when they drink than when they smoke pot. Also what the heck, make it legal, tax the crap out of it and put that back into the infrastructure and economy!"

But not every Facebook poster disagreed with the bill, including Joseph Suchorski, who writes that he is "glad that Wisconsin is going to keep it illegal."

Some found fault in the government for focusing on the issue at all.

"Doing the opposite of neighboring states Illinois, Minnesota, seems to be the norm for politicians in Wisconsin!" writes Mark Weinstock. "Wasting tax dollars with non violent offenders in the legal system is irresponsible governing!"

Facebook user Dan Rehbein says the marijuana issue is "definitely not the best thing to be focusing on right now."

"We have made progress in controlling spending and taxes are at least under control," he writes. "Jobs are being added and the economy is improving (slowly but improving). Why waste time dealing with this? Focus on the larger drug issues, like heroin, meth and other more serious drug issues."

This map, created by NORML, shows which states have decriminalized pot, allow medical marijuana or have legalized it:

This state by state map of was put together by NORML, a group working to reform marijuana law.
This state by state map of was put together by NORML, a group working to reform marijuana law.
Credit NORML