Wisconsin may be the latest state to pass cannabis reform measures after a bipartisan group of lawmakers formally introduced a proposal to decriminalize cannabis possession in late December. First previewed in early December, the noncommercial and relatively limited reform may garner enough support to advance past Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature.
The marijuana decriminalization measure was introduced by Representatives David Considine, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez and Shae Sortwell alongside Senator Lena Taylor. Assembly Bill 861 would remove criminal penalties such as jail time for cannabis-related offenses, such as simple possession of up to 14 grams of marijuana, and replace criminal charges for cannabis offenses with a $100 civil penalty.
Current Wisconsin law criminalizes cannabis possession and punishes the offense with a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The proposed decriminalization measure would also eliminate the need for people charged with cannabis possession to appear in court and replace it with a simple $100 fine. Additionally, the decriminalization measure would stop Wisconsin courts from counting cannabis possession convictions that involve up to 28 grams of cannabis. This means Wisconsin residents would never again be charged as repeat offenders for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The measure also reduced penalties for repeatedly possessing larger amounts of cannabis from three and a half years imprisonment to 90 days. Individuals charged with drug paraphernalia possession will be liable to a $10 civil forfeiture fine down from as much as 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
According to a censorship memo released by the measure’s sponsors, Wisconsin should not be imprisoning its residents for simply possessing small amounts of cannabis. On average, Wisconsin makes 15,485 arrests for minor cannabis possession and punishes simple possession suspects with up to six months in jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. The proposed measure would also grant law enforcement more flexibility on how they choose to deal with individual cannabis possession cases. This includes deciding whether or not to book and process individuals for simple cannabis possession or simply collecting certain personal information.
The measure would also reduce the liability of employers who choose not to test their employees for THC. However, these workplace testing provisions would not apply to jobs involving security and safety or those overseen by the federal Department of Transportation. The sponsorship memo noted that employers are increasingly choosing to forgo cannabis tests because they can be costly.
Assembly Bill 861 will head to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.
If this reform movement results in the eventual legalization of cannabis, it could lead existing companies such as TerrAscend Corp. (TSX: TSND) (OTCQX: TSNDF) to weigh whether or not to expand their footprints into those new markets.
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