ACLU Comment on Marijuana decriminalization bill

The ACLU of Wisconsin was pleased to stand with Representative Jarchow and some of his co-sponsors to propose this step to lower the fine and reduce criminal penalties for a second and subsequent offense of simple marijuana possession.

In 2013, the ACLU put out a report that showed that statewide, African-Americans are more than six times more likely than white people to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana. In Dane County, the numbers were even higher, and in Brown County, African Americans were more than seven and a half times more likely to be arrested.  This is despite the fact that many studies show that African-Americans and white use marijuana at the same rate.  This reduction in fines and criminal prosecution is movement towards lessening some of the negative outcomes that come from these racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Decades of trying to impose harsh punishments through the criminal justice system have had no impact on use.  Giving someone a criminal record for simple possession creates a lifetime of collateral damage. The punishment should fit the crime, and public opinion increasingly favors more sensible drug policy and a new approach to marijuana. 

This is a small step towards racial justice in our criminal justice system.  Wisconsin has the highest percentage of African Americans incarcerated in the United States.  The disparities in the system are embarrassing and morally wrong.  Significant changes need to be made at every level, from the policing, to charging, to incarceration decisions.  There is no easy answer, no silver bullet, but that is why it is critical we take a lot of small steps in the right direction.

Date: 
Tuesday, May 30, 2017