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Thursday, May 26, 2022
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New bipartisan marijuana proposal to change possession penalties in Wisconsin

A new bipartisan effort will aim to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession in Wisconsin, with most communities seeing a lowering in fines, and a few seeing an increase.

A new bipartisan marijuana proposal was proposed last week, aiming to change penalties for possession of marijuana. Wisconsin state law currently holds that first time marijuana possession is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

State law also currently permits communities to set their own penalties for marijuana possession. Most notably, Madison does not penalize adults over the age of 18 for possession of marijuana under 28 grams. Milwaukee County fines only $1 for possession. Other communities have higher penalties, such as Green Bay, where possession can lead to fines up to $500.

Under the new proposal, communities will still be able to enforce their own penalties, ranging from $100 to $250, or community service from 16 to 40 hours. This means communities like Green Bay will see a decrease in fines, while communities like Madison and Milwaukee will see a substantial increase in fines.

Milwaukee Democrat Representative Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, one of the plan's sponsors, said Tuesday that “too many people are dying and suffering because they don’t have access to a plant which is considered medicine in more than two-thirds of the states in the United States.” The bill would also repeal the scaling of marijuana penalties, meaning that repeat offenses under 28 grams will no longer be a felony. 

Many people are critiquing the bill as not progressive enough. A 2019 poll of Wisconsin voters found that 83% of voters supported legislation of medical marijuana, and 59% supported recreational marijuana.

After a strew of failed marijuana proposals, this bill might take traction with Republican sponsor of the bill Shae Shortwell, who said that “there are a number of people in leadership, there are a number of people in Republican politics in general, that realize that there is a shifting position on this issue in the Republican Party, in Republicans overall,” adding that upon presenting the plan to the assembly GOP, he “didn’t get a no.” 

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