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Dems propose bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, GOP leaders doubt there's support
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Dems propose bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, GOP leaders doubt there's support

Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation that would decriminalize the possession of 28 grams or less of marijuana.

However, with Republican leadership in both the Assembly and Senate resistant to more lax marijuana laws, the bill is poised to have a difficult time making it to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, said the bill aims to address racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, noting that African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at four times the rate of white residents, despite similar rates of usage.

“Far too many of our children are raised without both parents present due to the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Stubbs said during a Wednesday press conference. “When one community is disproportionately impacted by these policies, it is beyond time to pursue absolutely real solutions.”

The bill — introduced by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Stubbs, Reps. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee; Dave Considine, D-Baraboo; and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison — would eliminate the penalty for possessing 28 grams or less of marijuana. Manufacturing or distributing 28 grams or less — or if the amount of marijuana plants in possession is no more than two — also would be decriminalized under the bill.

Twenty-eight grams is slightly less than an ounce.

The bill also would eliminate law enforcement’s authority to use the odor of marijuana to establish probable cause.

However, Republican leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, have been largely unwilling to take up discussion on marijuana legalization.

“I’ve long been an opponent to any type of marijuana legalization and doubt that any proposals currently being floated will gain support from Republicans in the Senate,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

The bill bears similarities to plans introduced earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and legalize it for medical use. Republicans ultimately rejected the plan during this summer’s budget discussion.

Wednesday’s bill also comes about one month after the announcement of bipartisan medical marijuana legislation, which has received little attention from GOP leadership.

That bill — introduced by Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point; Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point; and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison — was the first bipartisan effort to legalize cannabis for medical use since 2001.

In an interview this week with WISC-TV, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, reiterated his stance that he is open to medical marijuana but added he is opposed to the proposal by Testin, Taylor and Erpenbach.

“It shouldn’t be smoked. It should be taken in pill form. It shouldn’t even be edible so a child could get at it,” Vos told WISC-TV.

In a Wednesday interview with WisconsinEye, Vos and Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, discussed the possibility of medical marijuana reform in Wisconsin.

“It is clear to me that the votes are not in the Legislature right now, especially in the state Senate, but I think it’s important for us to have a conversation as to what version potentially could get through,” Vos said.

Hintz said Democratic members of the Assembly have been open to conversations for years and the hope is to see that come to fruition.

“We need reform and reconsideration of our marijuana regulation policy in Wisconsin,” Hintz told WisconsinEye. “Certainly something would be better than nothing.”

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Wednesday the speaker and Assembly Republicans oppose decriminalization.

During Wednesday’s press conference, Crowley said proponents of the bill hope to reach out to Republicans in an effort to drum up support.

“Speaker Vos is one of 63 Republican members,” Crowley said. “Just because he is against this bill doesn’t mean, as Democrats or anybody who is a member of the Legislature, that we shouldn’t put forth bills that can actually make true change in peoples’ lives.”

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