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WI Decriminalization Bill Circulated for Co-sponsorship

A WI Decriminalization Bill is currently being circulated. Do not dig too deep into this. We will be providing some analysis and updates as we go. But right now, we need people in the fields to make some noise about removing the possible felony for small amounts of marijuana possession.

Yep, Governor Evers included taxation of cannabis in the budget. Good! Medical marijuana bills and an adult use/legalization/taxation bill are highly expected to be introduced again this session, right now and until Feb 17th, this bill and making noise about decriminalization at the state level is the most important thing!

LRB-0435 is currently being circulated for co-sponsorship with a co-sponsorship deadline of February 17th, 2021.

Decriminalization of 10 grams of cannabis proposed

From 2009-2018, 161,016 arrests were made for simple possession of marijuana. Comparatively, there were 19,190 arrests made for possession with intent to deliver.

The burden placed on local resources, from police focus, man-hours for arrests, paper work, and court appearances, to the court system dockets and public defender costs, would be much better spent on serious, violent crimes.

Like other common substances consumed by adults – alcohol, psychoactive caffeine, etc. – we recognize morally that the victimless crime of imbibing is itself not illegal. We do still hold individuals legally responsible if they should commit crimes while under the influence, as we should.

However, because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, this bill does not legalize marijuana. Insteadit reduces the penalties for possessing negligible amounts. This will act to relieve the financial burden the state and local law enforcement dedicate to marijuana possession, and open up resources for the enforcement of more serious crimes.

When someone is jailed or convicted of a felony for possessing a small amount of marijuana, it affects the rest of their life and makes it very difficult to gain employment. This adds further burdens on our criminal justice system, and makes it harder to businesses to employ qualified workers who have criminal convictions. There are no winners for aggressively enforcing simple marijuana possession.

Current law prohibits a person from possessing or attempting to possess marijuana. A person who is convicted of violating the prohibition may be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned for not more than six months, or both, for the first conviction and is guilty of a Class I felony for a second or subsequent conviction.

This bill reduces the state penalty to a $100 forfeiture, uniformly and preemptively across the state, for possessing or attempting to possess not more than 10 grams of marijuana and eliminates the increase in penalty if second or subsequent violations involve not more than 10 grams of marijuana. While this would increase the penalty in certain municipalities with ordinances that have penalties lower than $100, the ultimate goal is to create certainty and uniformity across the state.

Here is a joint statement from Northern Wisconsin NORML and Southeastern Wisconsin NORML:

LRB-0435 Talking Points

  • LRB-0435 is a good first step. It is Republican led and seems vetted by the GOP caucus, which must indicate caucus support for this measure; the bill should receive a public hearing.
  • This bill will save taxpayer resources. 
  • It creates a non misdemeanor/ non felony option at the state level.
  • It creates uniformity which will bring police and district attorney support.
  • It makes the maximum fine $100 locally in all of the municipalities.
  • This new $100 fine is far lower than most are currently set at. If the state does not make municipalities comply with the $100, local ordinances could stay substantially higher.
  • If a medical marijuana law is established that does not allow smoking products, this might be important to protect patients in that program.
  • It still allows District Attorney discretion to decline or try the case under the municipalities’ ordinance when under 10 grams.
  • It still allows municipalities to choose their own fines for amounts over 10 grams.
  • Municipalities can make this new state fine or other cannabis laws the lowest priority for Law Enforcement.
  • This may make more receptive municipalities move even further towards legalization.
  • There are 595 municipalities in Wisconsin, about a dozen municipalities currently have fines less than $100:
    This list may not be exhaustive because there is no definitive source to search and compare municipal codes, but from searching codes, news articles, and other coverage/discussion, here is what I have found. The following Wisconsin municipalities have ordinances with penalties, at least for the first offense, of less than $100 or with penalties with a range that includes values below $100:

•             Appleton: $50-$150 (Appleton Resolution #15-R-20)

•             Eau Claire: $1 (Eau Claire Ordinances § 1.24.030 Cn. 1.)

•             Green Bay: $1-$1,1000 (Green Bay Ordinances § 27.902 (2))

•             Kenosha: $10-$750, plus costs of prosecution (Kenosha Ordinances § 11.146)

•             La Crosse: $1 (La Crosse Ordinances §§ 32-163 (A); 32-1 (c))

•             Madison: $1 (Madison Ordinances §§ 23.20 (2); 1.08)

•             Milwaukee: $0-$50 (Milwaukee Ordinances § 106-38 3. a-1.)

•             Monona: No penalty for possession, use in or on one’s personal residence, or use as lawfully invited by the owner of a residence (Monona Ordinances § 335-11 B.)

•             Racine: $75 (Racine Ordinances § 66-261 (b))

•             Sturgeon Bay: $0-$100 (Sturgeon Bay Ordinances §§ 10.20; 25.04 (5) (a))

•             Waukesha: $50-$500 (Waukesha Ordinances § 11.01 (5); 11.01 (10))

•             Wausau: $50-$500 (Wausau Ordinances §§ 9.04.037; 9.04.038)

Milwaukee County is also considering a proposal to drop its marijuana penalties to $1; see “Milwaukee County supervisors explore dropping fine for marijuana possession to $1 maximum” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

Several other counties have adopted similar measures:

•             Manitowoc County: $50-$500 (Manitowoc County Ordinances § 6.255)

•             Oconto County: $1-$1,000 (Oconto County Ordinances § 19.050 (e) (2))

•             Rock County: $1 (Rock County Resolution no. 20-9A-067)

In addition to fines, those who violate local marijuana ordinances also pay associated court costs, which can increase the penalty significantly; Eau Claire’s $1 fine becomes $148 when court costs are included, and a $200 maximum fine in West Allis becomes $1,321. This bill would decrease both the social and monetary burden on those who receive tickets for marijuana in almost every municipality.

This may not be the exact bill that we would have hoped for if we were writing it ourselves. However this is a great first step in the right direction, and would bring relief to a lot of people who get caught up in the system. We appreciate all of the legislators who support this bill.

For these reasons and more, Northern Wisconsin NORML and Southeastern Wisconsin NORML have joined together to voice our support for LRB-0435.

Please contact your elected representatives today and ask them co-sponsor LRB-0435. 

Find your legislators here: https://legis.wisconsin.gov/

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