MADISON: Wisconsin is often said to be a progressive state, but the state’s policies on marijuana have actually been nothing but regressive for more than three decades.
But, there was a time when state leaders were actually willing to initiate a statewide discussion on the laws prohibiting cannabis and even talk about taxation and regulation as with tobacco or alcohol. 35 years ago this summer, the state actually held a series of public hearings on Wisconsin marijuana laws. The results, coming at a time when medical use was barely on the radar, were amazingly progressive.
The hearings were set in motion by the findings of a commission appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to look at marijuana laws. Nixon thought his that former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer, who he chose to lead the committee, would produce a report supporting Nixon’s “war on drugs” and support his escalation of the war on cannabis.
Instead, The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse – Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding found the opposite. An angry Nixon rejected the report, but it led to passage of marijuana decriminalization laws in 11 states, as well as debate and discussion of the criminalization of cannabis and its effects on society all over the nation.
The Wisconsin hearings, conducted by the Controlled Substance Board’s “Special Committee on Marijuana Laws,” produced a “Final Report to the Controlled Substances Board,” issued in October 1975, and titled, “SHOULD WISCONSIN REVISE ITS MARIJUANA LAWS?”
The introduction of the report gives this background on the origin of the idea:
At its February 6, 1975 meeting, the Wisconsin Council on Drug Abuse decided that a statewide series of public hearings should be held on the issue of whether Wisconsin should revise its marijuana laws. However since the council meets quarterly, it requested the Wisconsin Controlled Substances Board, which meets monthly, to actually conduct the hearings. At the March 26, 1975 meeting, the board appointed a Special Committee on Wisconsin’s Marijuana Laws to plan and conduct the hearings. Accordingly, the Committee adopted the following schedule of hearings”
It went on to note a schedule beginning June 9, 1975 at Winnebago and concluding in Milwaukee on September 11, 1975.
The 8 public hearing sites:
By the time the hearing reached Madison on September 10, 1975, support was strong with many state leaders strongly in favor:
Decriminalization supporters included:
Gov. Patrick Lucey and his Council on Drug Abuse
Attorney General Bronson La Follette
Assistant Atty. Gen. John William Calhoun
Wisconsin Controlled Substances Board
U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), (who sponsored federal decriminalization legislation with 4 other senators)
State Rep. David C. Clarenbach (D-Madison)
Milwaukee County District Attorney Michael McCann
Madison Police Chief David Couper
UW Sociology Prof. Gerald Marwell, who did research for the 1971 National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (Shafer Commission).
UW Dean of Students Paul Ginsberg
Judie LaForme of the UW Drug Information Center
ACLU leader William Gorham Rice