By Angie Trudell Vasquez
The time has come to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
Colorado and Washington have already done so. And 21 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana.
But Wisconsin is lagging behind.
This makes no sense.
First of all, the war on marijuana wastes money.
Some counties, including Dane, have already stopped bothering to prosecute people for possession of small amounts of the drug for personal use. The police just don’t want to waste resources on something that poses no real threat to public safety.
If Wisconsin stopped prosecuting people for possession of marijuana, it would save about $7 million a year in arrest costs alone. It also would save about $150 a day in jail costs while the accused awaited prosecution. In addition, it would save the state $31,000 per convicted person per year in a Wisconsin prison.
On the revenue side, Wisconsin would gain from taxing marijuana. Look at Colorado. In the first two months after it legalized marijuana, it brought in more than $6 million in taxes on the drug.
The war on marijuana possession has been an abysmal failure. The supply of marijuana has increased since President Nixon declared the war on drugs more than four decades ago. Recently, a group of Nobel Prize-winning economists denounced the war on drugs, saying it has created a $300 billion black market and failed to make our communities safer.
The criminalization of marijuana has helped give Wisconsin the dubious distinction of imprisoning more people of color per capita than any other state in the United States.
“The adult marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is nearly six times higher than the rate for whites,” says Michael O’Hear, associate dean of Marquette Law School, even though the difference in usage rates between whites and blacks is negligible.
The war on marijuana does serious harm by separating people from their families. Children who don’t have their parents in their lives suffer terrible consequences.
Even when they are released, convicted marijuana users continue to pay a heavy price. They are ineligible for college financial aid. They find it hard to get a job. And society loses out on what they could be contributing.
State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has introduced a bill to legalize marijuana, and several of her Democratic colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors.
This spring, citizens of Dane County voted almost 2-to-1 in favor of a referendum to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
As Sargent says, “It’s not a question of whether this will happen, it’s when.”
Let’s make it happen, before our outdated marijuana laws do any more damage.
This opinion piece was written for the Progressive Media Project and appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on May 23, 2014.