Black people in Wisconsin make up almost 7% of the state population yet are roughly 40% of Wisconsin's prison inmates. Lawmakers and community organizers at a press conference Wednesday presented a bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The goal: to reduce the number of people of color in jail.
Just like with the legalization of marijuana, states surrounding Wisconsin have taken steps to also decriminalize possession of the drug. In Wisconsin, some Democratic lawmakers are now hoping to push the state in that direction for small amounts of weed — anything 28 grams or less.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is on board.
"Research shows in Wisconsin black people are four times more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested for marijuana offense while also being more likely to serve prison time for it," Barnes explains. "Even in my home town of Milwaukee, there's a study that points out how black people make up 72% of marijuana arrests in 40% of the population … despite marijuana use being even across the racial board."
Simple marijuana possession and/or use is not a reason for anyone to serve a prison sentence, lose out on a job, nor lose their voting rights. Today, I stood with @RepStubbs and lawmakers who introduced new legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession in Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/CXiqX7l7r0
— Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes (@LGMandelaBarnes) October 30, 2019
The legislation would also prohibit police from searching your car based upon the smell of marijuana. Advocates of the change in law say there's no way to determine by smell if someone has hemp or marijuana because they are derived from the same plant.
Finally, the legislation would create a system of expunging criminal records of marijuana possession for less than 28 grams.
Democratic state Rep. David Crowley says there's evidence that shows that harsh drug laws do not deter marijuana use. He says change is needed.
"But one thing that's in this plan, is that we want to provide a much-needed path for those previously convicted of these crimes to make sure they can get their records cleared," Crowley says.
Crowley goes on to say that the decriminalization only leads to increased unemployment, homelessness, and a possibility of more criminal activity.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he supports medical marijuana but does not support decriminalization. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is not in support of changing marijuana law.