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Reexamining Wisconsin's marijuana laws

On Election Day, two Western states decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana under certain circumstances. Rather than locking up increasingly significant numbers of our population for relatively minor drug crimes that disproportionately affect youth and minorities, Midwestern states might want to consider doing the same. The issue of marijuana legalization is complicated and politically charged. But it is at least worth serious contemplation.

For years now, states throughout the nation have become more lenient in their approach to low-level marijuana crimes. Essentially, prosecuting these low-level crimes consistently and urgently takes up valuable time, resources and has a profoundly disproportionate human cost to those who are accused and/or convicted.

Furthermore, many have argued that the failure to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes makes little sense. When Wisconsin residents who are seriously ill and are suffering pain that could be eased by access to well-regulated marijuana, they should be given the option to do so. Right now, the alternative is to risk prosecution for seeking out a proven non-dependent pain reliever that will not wrack their bodies with potentially life-threatening side effects.

Currently, a second conviction for simple possession of marijuana, even a single gram of it, carries a penalty of incarceration up to three-and-a-half years long. A second simple possession conviction is considered a Class I felony.

Critics say that this punishment is grossly disproportionate to the offense. If Wisconsin residents are not ready to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, they should at least consider encouraging legislators to reform sentencing guidelines for simple possession and other low-level offenses.

Source: Wisconsin Law Journal, "Marijuana law should go up in smoke," Anthony Cotton, Dec. 19, 2012

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