There is little debate about the fact that drug laws and policies in the United States evolve frequently. Currently, both federal and state prosecutors are increasingly questioning the use of draconian sentencing laws that impose lengthy prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders. Many states are legalizing marijuana for medical use (and sometimes recreational use), while others are decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.
In spite of these changes nationwide, Wisconsin's drug laws remain strict and harsh. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, nearly 25,000 Wisconsinites are arrested for drug offenses each year. If this reality is to evolve for the better, it remains important to clarify some potential confusion about Wisconsin's marijuana laws and consequences associated with violating them.
Medical Marijuana Remains Illegal in Wisconsin
You may remember hearing news in recent years about medical marijuana legislation in Wisconsin. While some changes have been made to the legality of marijuana-derived medicines, the changes are minimal and are narrowly applied. In April 2014, Gov. Walker signed a bill that essentially allows patients with a seizure disorder to use cannabidiol, a marijuana-derived medicine, as long as that product does not produce a psychoactive effect (a "high," in other words).
This change is so minimal and affects so few people that it is hardly worth mentioning. The reason we did mention it, however, is to dispel any misconceptions that medical marijuana may have been legalized in Wisconsin generally.
The Racial Component in Enforcement of Wisconsin Drug Laws
Research shows that whites and African Americans have similar rates of drug use, including use of marijuana. Yet African Americans are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for drug crimes. In 2011, for instance, African Americans accounted for just 7.2 percent of Wisconsin's overall population but nearly 28 percent of those arrested for drug offenses.
The reasons for this disparity are unclear. What is clear, however, is that the high rate of drug convictions is hindering a population that already tends to be economically and socially disadvantaged.
The Consequences of a Marijuana Conviction
Socially speaking, use of marijuana is considered safe and is widely condoned. But this attitude is not reflected in our state's drug laws. A first-time conviction for marijuana possession can result in fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
A drug crimes conviction - even when the charges are relatively minor - can make it far more difficult to get a college education, find a good job or obtain housing. That being said, it is important to remember that your fate is not yet sealed if you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense.
A good criminal defense attorney may be able to reduce the charges you are facing, arrange a favorable plea deal or help you pursue an acquittal. In order to protect your rights and your future, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after your arrest. Beginning your relationship with an experienced attorney as quickly as possible following your arrest will give you the greatest chance that your attorney can help to influence every stage of the case against you.