MADISON: As I noted in Part One yesterday, 35 years ago this summer, Wisconsin officials held a series of eight public hearings on Wisconsin’s marijuana laws.
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 results, coming at a time when medical use was barely on the radar, were amazingly progressive.
From a Wisconsin Sate Journal article from Sept. 11, 1975:
The notion that the courts should stop jailing people for smoking marijuana gathered support Wednesday from several members of the establishment, including Madison Police Chief David C. Couper.
Couper’s views, which he indicated were shared by members of the Dane County Metro Narcotics Squad, were presented to a public hearing in the State Capitol.
The hearings, which resume today in Milwaukee, are being conducted by the Controlled Substances Board at the request of the State Council on Drug Abuse.
The question under consideration is: Should Wisconsin revise its marijuana laws?
Others taking similar stances were Paul Ginsberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison dean of students, and State Rep. David C. Clarenbach (D-Madison), who said he will introduce legislation that would decriminalize marijuana use.
Testifying with Ginsberg, Judie LaForme of the UW Drug Information Center said marijuana is no threat to health or social order, and presents laws discourage those with problems from seeking help., and result in arbitrary, unequal, and often plain impossible enforcement.
After the report’s release, the October 18, 1975 Wisconsin State Journal discussed the results:
Two members of a state hearing panel, including an assistant attorney general, have endorsed liberalizing Wisconsin’s marijuana laws.
In the final report from the panel, Dr. Joseph Benforado and Assistant Atty. Gen. John William Calhoun joined more than 1,000 persons (90 percent of those who appeared) surveyed at eight hearings around the state who favor easing or eliminating penalties for marijuana possession.
Most speakers at the hearings felt strongly on the issue, pro or con.
Out of 1,128 who responded to a questionnaire, 1,083, or 94 percent, favored lightening or eliminating present penalties against possession of marijuana for personal use.
Of the 28 people who said the present law is not strict enough, 20 favored both longer jail terms and greater fines.
Of those who said present laws are too harsh, 59 percent favored legalizing marijuana. Legalizing would mean regulating and taxing the sale and use as the state does alcohol and tobacco.
About 40 percent supported “decriminalization” of personal use. That is, possession of small amounts would be treated as a civil forfeiture, like a traffic ticket.
The 11/14/75 Capital Times cited more support for passage of a state decriminalization law.
The Governor’s Council on Drug Abuse endorsed the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana Thursday, with both Attorney General Bronson La Follette and Gov. Patrick Lucey’s designee in support.
The council’s 7-1 vote followed a similar move Oct. 20 when the Controlled Substances Board backed removing criminal penalties on a 4-2 vote.
While Wisconsin ignored these findings and has never passed a statewide decriminalization to date, the legislature did enact a law allowing counties and municipalities to adopt local decriminalization ordinances for amounts of 25 grams of cannabis or less.
This has created a giant patchwork of different enforcement across the state. Some areas have no local ordinance but have a county statute. Other places have it, but rarely use it. Some places have smaller amounts than 25 grams. In many locales, criminal charges are often filed anyways for small amounts depending on circumstances.
Oddly enough, the State Controlled Substances Board that once showed an open mind and support for reform has spent most of the intervening time opposing ANY reform, even for medical use. The Controlled Substance Board not only sent a representative to testify against the Jacki Rickert MMJ Act, it’s chair, Dr. Darrold Treffert, ran his own opposition blitz in conjunction with State Rep. John Townsend (R-Fossil), who is finally retiring. These harsh laws that make second offense any amount a felony as well as the dozen year failure to pass a medical cannabis law are driving Wisconsinites to greener locations like Michigan, Colorado, Oregon, California and other places that have managed to find some peace amid this unending, immoral, counterproductive, unnatural and stupid prohibition.