State representative proposes marijuana legalization for those over 21

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, announced a bill to address teen dating violence alongside two Republican colleagues Thursday.

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State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, unveiled legislation Monday that would decriminalize marijuana possession and fully legalize its use for both recreational and medicinal purposes for those over 21 years old.

"The most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it is illegal," Sargent said in a Monday press conference. She praised the effects of similar legislation in states like Colorado and Washington and called on lawmakers to pass a "homegrown marijuana solution."

The 90-page bill includes a sales tax provision of 25 percent, according to Sargent. Edibles and infusions cannot be sold, which is a change from Sargent’s previous attempt to legalize the drug when she introduced a similar bill in January 2014. Cultivation of marijuana requires a $250 application fee under the bill. 

Sargent noted the bill could not do anything for those currently facing charges for possession, saying she "cannot retroactively fix a broken system."

"What is truly criminal is the money that Wisconsin as a whole is losing by not legalizing marijuana. This is a travesty," Sargent said, noting projected budget deficiencies for the state.

The representative pointed to racial disparities in Madison and Wisconsin as the inspiration for the bill, saying that marijuana criminalization diverts priorities for police departments. According to Sargent, each marijuana possession arrest costs taxpayers $425.

"As a dedicated conservative myself, I can see many positives with the ending of prohibition and the opportunity for the free market with the new offering," said Joe Erato, president of the Wisconsin Cannabis Project, who spoke at the press conference.

Erato praised Colorado for its handling of marijuana legalization, citing reduced drug abuse and lower crime rates.

“[The bill] falls directly in line with Gov. Scott Walker's plan of creating jobs, reducing tax burdens on citizens, and creating a freer and more open, conservative economy,” Erato said.

As far as getting support in a Republican state legislature, Sargent is confident the bill can pass.

"More of the people who have contacted me about their support of this bill are associated with the Republican Party," Sargent said. "This is not a party issue. This is a value issue.”

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