Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and a number of Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill that seeks to decriminalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
The proposed legislation would ensure that possession of up to 28 grams of cannabis is no longer a criminal offense across the state. Lawmakers who unveiled the bill said it would invigorate Wisconsin’s workforce by removing the barrier to employment that cannabis-related convictions can spark.
Sen. Fred Risser said the bill would address the disproportionate rate at which black residents are incarcerated. A previous report said that black people in Wisconsin are four times more likely than white people to be arrested over cannabis possession offenses.
Lt. Gov. Mandela, who calls himself “The Other Mandela” on Twitter, said current cannabis laws keep black people in a place of inferiority. “We look at this as a sort of New Green Deal for the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
Mandela called it an equitable and sustainable path, and said mass incarceration will continue if the majority of the legislature fails to back the bill.
However, proponents of the bill face a monumental challenge in getting it through a Republican-controlled legislature. Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers rejected a proposal from Gov. Anthony Evers that sought to decriminalize possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana. Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren stated that it would not be included in the state budget.
Republicans in Wisconsin have resisted liberalization of marijuana laws. Last month the leader of the state Senate reiterated his opposition towards legalizing medical marijuana, just hours after backers released their bill on the issue.
Scott Fitzgerald said that everyone knows a medical marijuana industry leads to recreational marijuana being legalized. He also warned that it would lead to more emergency room visits and impaired driving accidents, and said it would be a tough sell to his caucus.
However, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did say he wants to work on legalizing medical marijuana this fall, sparking a degree of optimism among advocates in the state.