Senator Kathleen Bernier (R - Chippewa Falls) and Rep. Shae Sortwell (R - Two Rivers) are circulating legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of cannabis. Bernier, now the Senate Majority Caucus Vice-Chair, has been supportive of previous decriminalization proposals in previous sessions, as has Sortwell.
The proposal calls for a $100 civil forfeiture for possessing not more than 10 grams of cannabis and eliminates reporting the conviction as a repeat offense, thus protecting those cited from being charged with a felony as a repeat offender.
But a clause in the proposal appears to threaten the wave of local ordinances with fines reduced to as low as $1 or even waived in communities around the state in the wake of the numerous 2018 advisory referendums that were approved supporting legalization. The bill analysis states this bill preempts local government from imposing a forfeiture amount for the possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana that is different from the forfeiture amount imposed by the state for possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana. If adopted, this could raise penalties and even increase enforcement.
UPDATE: 2021-02-09: In a Facebook post, State Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, clarified the bill's language: "for up to 10 grams. It also keeps in place the rights of the counties and cities to regulate fines from 11-25 in place".
Below is the analysis of Bernier and Sortwell's proposal by the Legislative Reference Bureau:
Analysis by Legislative Reference Bureau Current law prohibits a person from possessing or attempting to possess marijuana. A person who violates the prohibition is guilty of a misdemeanor crime and 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 and may be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than three years and six months, or both, for a repeat conviction. This bill reduces to a $100 civil forfeiture the penalty for possessing or attempting to possess not more than 10 grams of marijuana and eliminates the counting of a conviction involving not more than 10 grams of marijuana when determining if a violation is a repeat conviction. Current law allows a local government to enact an ordinance prohibiting the possession of marijuana and to impose a forfeiture for a violation of the ordinance. The bill preempts local government from imposing a forfeiture amount for the possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana that is different from the forfeiture amount imposed by the state for possession of not more than 10 grams of marijuana. The bill does not change the current law that allows local governments discretion in the forfeiture amount imposed for possession of 10 grams or more of marijuana. The bill also specifies that a citation issued for possession of marijuana must contain provisions for a deposit in lieu of a court appearance. The court may consider the deposit as a plea of no contest and enter a judgment without the person appearing in court. Because this bill creates a new crime or revises a penalty for an existing crime, the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties may be requested to prepare a report.
Statewide decriminalization has been elusive in Wisconsin. The closest it came was an Assembly vote in Sept. 1977, when after breezing through committees, the measure failed in the Assembly on a 54-41 vote. There have been other attempts through the years including last session when it was in Gov. Evers budget along with medical cannabis until both were removed by majority Republicans. A stand-alone bill was also introduced.