History was made May 30 with a Capitol press conference announcing the introduction of bipartisan statewide decriminalization legislation. The bill, LRB-1507/1, is sponsored by Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake), along with Reps. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison). The bill is historical not only in that it is Rep. Jarchow’s first time sponsoring a cannabis related bill but also the first cannabis related bill sponsored by Sen. Risser in 38 years.
Here are details of the new proposal:
Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
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 a first conviction and is guilty of a Class I felony for a second or subsequent conviction. This bill reduces to a $100 forfeiture the penalty 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.
In the 2015-2016 session, former Rep. Mandela Barnes (D-Milwaukee) sponsored a much broader decriminalization bill, but as a Democratic-sponsored bill in a majority GOP legislature, it died in committee without a public hearing or committee vote.
The Capital Times discussed how Rep. Jarchow came to sponsor a marijuana decriminalization bill:
“Jarchow said he started thinking about the issue on the campaign trail last summer, when “I would hear from voters pretty regularly that they thought we needed to change course on marijuana policy.”
During a subsequent Facebook town hall meeting, he posed the question to constituents, with 90 percent of those weighing in wanting a change.
A survey of his district this spring yielded similar results, he said, with 75 to 80 percent of more than 700 respondents wanting to see a change in marijuana policies.”
The Cap Times also reported on Jarchow’s outlook on the bill’s chances of passage this session:
“Jarchow noted that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has shown interest in exploring a medical marijuana bill, which Jarchow said “gives me some hope.”
Jarchow said that while he’s hopeful for reform of the state’s marijuana laws in the long run, he’s not betting that he’ll garner the support from his GOP colleagues to get it passed in the near future.
“I’m not naïve to think that we are going to probably pass this and get it signed into law,” he said. “This to me is a first step. And what I’m hoping we achieve today is a little bit of public awareness of a bipartisan solution to a difficult problem, as well as maybe we could get a public hearing and we could flesh out some of these issues we’ve been talking about, some of these costs. That would help lead the way to further reforms.””
So it all comes down to politics. Gov. Scott Walker has rejected going any further than the very weak CBD bill he signed into law earlier this year. Meanwhile, Wisconsinites are very supportive of loosening state pot laws with a July 2016 Marquette Law School poll finding 59% of Wisconsinites favor legalizing cannabis. Other polls have found support for medical cannabis at 75%-85% or higher. And even a very conservative Republican like Rep. Jarchow has found strong support for relaxing pot laws statewide in his district. If Democrats manage to wrest the governorship away from Walker in Nov. 2018, the green light will be on for cannabis law reform. If not, Wisconsin’s already long wait for cannabis sanity looks like it could go on as long as Walker remains governor.