It is time for Wisconsin to legalize marijuana and recognize that "cannabis prohibition is an outdated and regressive policy," Wisconsin Justice Initiative President Craig Johnson said Thursday.
"People used to describe marijuana as a 'gateway drug,' " he said. "And unfortunately it is – because of the unequal way in which marijuana laws are enforced, for black and brown people it’s a gateway into the criminal justice system, it’s a gateway to jail, and it’s a gateway to prison – and that’s wrong."
Johnson joined State Rep. Melissa Sargent as the Madison Democrat spoke at a press conference about her new bill to legalize cannabis. Information about the legislation is here.
"Far too many lives and communities have been damaged by out-of-date and backwards cannabis policies, and we must take this important and necessary step towards rectifying these damages," she said in prepared remarks. "The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal."
Johnson, also in prepared remarks, said that too many people of color are arrested and prosecuted for possessing small amounts of cannabis for personal use.
"Cars are searched, homes are searched, and arrests are made – at times for possession of mere grams of marijuana. This is a waste of precious law enforcement and court resources, it ruins lives, and it needs to end," he said.
Johnson cited WJI research showing that more than 80 percent of people charged in Milwaukee County with felony possession of marijuana felony second offense or greater are African-American. The county's population is about 27 percent African-American, he said.
In November, voters in 16 counties voted in advisory referendums in favor of legalizing medical or recreational cannabis or both. Polls also show a majority of Wisconsinites support legalization.
Said Sargent: "By legalizing recreational marijuana in Wisconsin we will open the door to countless family-sustaining jobs, have the means to regulate and tax marijuana to provide abundant economic stimulus for our state, and address the massive and egregious racial disparities in marijuana-related arrest rates."
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