By Gretchen Schuldt
District Attorney John Chisholm said this week that he favors marijuana legalization if there are adequate implementation and regulatory structures in place.
"Let's come up with the best legal framework for allowing people to possess marijuana much as they do alcohol and tobacco," he said during an interview.
If he can find the funding, Chisholm said, he would like to hold a one-day symposium in Milwaukee to explore how other states handled legalization implementation, the challenges they faced, and what they learned from their experiences.
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis to some extent.
Wisconsin still is a full prohibition state. Second offense possession of marijuana of any amount still is a felony in the state.
Voters in 18 November referendums around the state indicated they favor cannabis legalization. Milwaukee County voters in every municipality favored legalization of recreational marijuana for adults.
Chisholm says he favors full legalization over an incremental approach. The state should ensure, before legalization takes effect, that the infrastructure is in place to ensure successful implementation and that cannabis tax revenue is distributed as intended.
Downsides to legalization, he said, could include impaired driving, and negative impacts on school performance and health, he said.
"We just have to be cognizant of that," he said.
In the meantime, he said, his office will continue to use alternatives to prosecution, including diversion efforts and defaulting to municipal tickets instead of criminal prosecutions, to reduce the number of marijuana cases flowing through the court system.
He said he would prosecute some cases, though, "until the law is changed."
As a prosecutor, he said, he has significant discretion, but "it's got to be based on a rational basis."
He can't decide simply to not enforce the law, he said.
"I'm not a super legislator," he said.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
Sign up for the free WJI newsletter.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin