Democrats push for pot decriminalization in Wisconsin, but Republican leaders don’t support it

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Democratic lawmakers and others are pushing for decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Wisconsin.

But the measure they unveiled Wednesday is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Barnes and others say decriminalizing the possession of less than 28 grams of pot would decrease racial disparities and inequities in the criminal justice system. They also say it will decrease barriers to employment and higher education that those with felony convictions for possession face.

“Marijuana is not a reason to serve a prison sentence. Marijuana is not a reason to lose out on a job or a place to live. It’s not a reason to lose out on an opportunity to go to school or get financial aid,” Barnes said.

Republican legislative leaders are opposed to decriminalization. They killed a proposal Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made earlier this year.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he remains opposed to marijuana decriminalization, and there isn’t support in the Assembly Republican caucus.

“I don’t know if it’s right for us to make a policy decision statewide that using an illegal drug just simply becomes now where it’s not a serious crime,” Vos told News 3 Now.

He said a decision to charge someone for marijuana decriminalization is a decision local district attorneys are choosing to make, and he’s “not going to prohibit that.”

Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said the Dane County DA sets a threshold for whether to charge someone, and his office does not have enough law enforcement officers to enforce possession of marijuana.

“Throughout Dane County, if we encounter somebody for no other criminal charge who’s smoking a doobie in their backyard, we’re not going to arrest them for possession,” Mahoney said.

He said Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne sets a threshold for whether to charge someone for possession, and they are typically only prosecuted if they have large amounts of marijuana that are of high grade and have the sole purpose of selling the drug.

Statewide, Mahoney said, he does not support decriminalization or full legalization of marijuana. He is open to medical marijuana, as is Vos.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says he’s long opposed decriminalization and doubts the latest bill will win support among Republicans.

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