Lawmakers will be watching to see what happens in Colorado and Washington, where residents voted to lift long-standing bans on recreational marijuana use, said state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Rome, who represents Wisconsin’s 72nd Assembly District, and changes in this state might be possible.
Krug, who previously served as the Wood County Drug Court administrator, said Wisconsin should put more of a focus on drug addiction treatment than the current legal system does.
“We spend too much time punishing people by putting them behind bars and throwing away the keys,” Krug said.
He noted that the state’s budget for the prison system is higher than that for the university system. Victimless crimes and drug crimes aren’t necessarily the cases that need to fill up jails and prisons, he said.
Chris Jockheck, chairman of the Wood County Democratic Party, agreed Wisconsin should consider addiction to marijuana as something that needs treatment, rather than punishment. People’s lives are ruined because of a felony marijuana conviction, he said.
The legalization of marijuana still is subject to federal law, said outgoing state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., a Democrat from Stevens Point who will be sworn in as the new Portage County district attorney in January. People in Colorado and Washington have to realize that they still can be prosecuted under federal law, he said.
Molepske, a legislator for almost 10 years, said his constituents didn’t want marijuana legalized. The opinions he heard leaned toward legalizing the drug for medical use, but not for recreational, he said.
Molepske is in favor of creating ordinance-level penalties for people who get caught with small amounts of marijuana, so that they don’t have criminal convictions, he said. Portage County has such an ordinance, which gives a fine but no criminal conviction for a first offense, and it helps give people a small break, he said.
As the newly elected Portage County district attorney, Molepske said it’s important to remember that marijuana is a drug that can lead to other, more potentially addictive and dangerous drugs. He said he will aggressively prosecute all drug offenses.
The changes in Colorado and Washington will provide a chance for future analysis, should the issue arise in the Legislature, but Wisconsin lawmakers have more important issues to face, Jockheck said.
“We have the opportunity to see how two states will be impacted and what happens there,” Jockheck said.
Jockheck said the two states that have legalized marijuana are similar to Wisconsin in that they have large liberal-leaning metropolitan areas.
At this point, the legalization of marijuana is a unique situation, said Jay Selthofner, co-founder and current treasurer of the Northern Wisconsin Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
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