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Proposal Would Decriminalize Small Amounts Of Marijuana In Wisconsin

Lawmaker Says Felony Charges For Small Possession Offenses Cost The State Money

Frank (CC-BY-NC-ND)

A Milwaukee state representative wants to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Democrat Mandela Barnes said his bill would save the state money by reducing the prison population.

Barnes’ bill would eliminate criminal penalties for both the possession and sale of 25 grams or less of marijuana. That’s a little less than an ounce. Many cities already just impose civil fines for a first offense for such small amounts. But a second offense can be charged as a felony. Barnes said a key provision in his bill would change that, adding that those second-offense felonies are sending too many people to prison.

“They’re spending $30,000 a year for someone who goes to jail for marijuana possession,” Barnes said. “When you talk about saving the state money, I think this is one of the most common sense way that we can make that happen.”

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Barnes said while there may not be support for legalizing marijuana, he believes most people in the state don’t believe someone should go to prison for being caught with just a small amount.

The bill would also prevent police from using just the odor of marijuana as probable cause for arresting someone who has only a small amount. And it would prevent parole agents from sending a parolee back to prison if they’re caught with less than ounce of marijuana.

Barnes is calling on Republican Joel Kleefisch who chairs the Assembly Corrections Committee to schedule a hearing on the bill in the near future.