On the heels of laws legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Democratic State Rep. Melissa Sargent has begun seeking co-sponsors for legislation that would end criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
“This is a tide that’s turning in our country,” Sargent said.
“It’s not a question of whether this will happen, it’s when,” she said.
Sargent said she hasn’t spoken with any Republican lawmakers, who run both chambers of the Legislature, and has just started selling the idea to her Democratic colleagues.
The Madison lawmaker said she was motivated in part by the fact that Wisconsin has the fifth-highest racial disparity between blacks and whites when it comes to marijuana-related arrests. Decriminalizing marijuana, she said, would save time and money for law enforcement, and taxing it would raise revenues for the state.
Obviously Rep. Sargent’s legislation will be a non-starter for Republicans in the legislature, but it’s an idea I believe has some merit. As noted by a report from the ACLU, despite comparable usage rates, African-Americans in Wisconsin are nearly six times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. What’s more, it costs our state nearly $80 million per year to enforce existing marijuana laws, while legalization of marijuana(and the ensuing taxation of marijuana) would actually put money into the state’s coffers.