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Gov. Tony Evers proposes plan to decriminalize recreational marijuana

Posted at 5:52 PM, Feb 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-18 20:17:42-05

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers revealed his proposal to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of small amounts for recreational purposes.

The idea of decriminalization is a controversial one, and it could have a major impact on the community.

Craig Johnson sees the effect firsthand as a lawyer in Shorewood. He's also the President of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, an organization that advocates for reform in the justice system.

"You can actually be facing prison time for the mere possession of a small amount of marijuana," he said.

Charges for a small possession can range anywhere from a fine to a felony.

"That could be five grams. It could be 10 grams. You could be looking at up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine," Johnson said.

Johnson said this doesn't happen often in Milwaukee County but it's a real possibility, when it comes to making or selling a small amount of weed the consequences are worse, with a max sentence of three and a half years.

In fact, drug-related crimes account for 75 to 85 percent of inmates in state prisons.

Besides the threat of confinement, any of these offenses means a mark on your record.

"It's a barrier to getting a good job. It's a barrier to moving up in the world, essentially because you have that red flag on your record," Johnson said.

Evers' proposal would expunge past convictions and decriminalize anyone possessing, making or selling 25 grams or less of marijuana.

At first blush, Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper is against it.

"My personal position as a prosecutor for almost 30 years and somebody that's dealt with drug offenders throughout my career, I would most likely be opposed to it," Opper said.

She doesn't feel overwhelmed by felony cases.

"In my experience, most offenders would get two or three tickets before it would come to the state for criminal prosecution," Opper said.

However, from Johnson's point of view, this would be a major step in helping prevent mass incarceration.

"They waste law enforcement resources. They waste prosecutor resources. They waste the resources of the courts and it wastes jail bed space," Johnson said.

Statistics show Wisconsin has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country for black men.

Advocates hope this could decrease by decriminalizing marijuana.