States and locales across the country are loosening restrictions on marijuana. While Colorado and Washington have been the most aggressive and open—legalizing recreational marijuana altogether—other states and municipalities have lessened penalties or introduced legislation that would make it less of a risk to light up a joint. Here in Wisconsin, however, legislators are moving in the opposite direction.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)—the only outlet seemingly reporting on this important story—there are bills in the Senate and Assembly that would allow municipalities to prosecute individuals for violating state marijuana laws when the state District Attorney declines to change them.
Currently, under state law, if you are found with less than 25 grams of marijuana, it’s up to your local prosecutors office to charge you. If it’s more than 25 grams or if this isn’t your first offense, the District Attorney is given the option to charge you. If they decline, the matter is over. Legislators don’t want it to be this simple, however.If SB150 and AB164 pass, the local prosecutor will be able to take up the torch and prosecute anyways, even if the D.A. decides not to. In other words, people who are caught with more than 25 grams or who already have a history of marijuana possession charges will be hit with a sort of one-two punch. If the first punch doesn’t land, the second one might.
Now this isn’t to say you can be prosecuted twice, that would be double jeopardy and a direct constitutional violation, but it does mean that if the District Attorney decides you shouldn’t be prosecuted for whatever reason (not enough evidence, a violation of your rights during the arrest, etc.) the local prosecutor then gets a chance with your case.
Generally, the District Attorney is considered to have some level of common sense in choosing what cases to prosecute. If they decline to prosecute, it’s usually with good reason. Therefore, handing cities the reigns once the D.A. has declined makes little sense.
It could be that legislators in Wisconsin are a little nervous—they don’t want to be next in line for marijuana legalization and see additional marijuana laws as a sort of fortress against the changing tides of marijuana policy. Still, this move would be a major mistake and would serve to set Wisconsin back considerably in contrast with the progress being made elsewhere.
What can you do? You can go to the NORML website and fill out an email to your local legislators asking them to vote no on the proposed marijuana laws. And if you are caught in possession of marijuana, you can fight those charges tooth and nail with a local defense lawyer on your side.