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Wisconsin Governor Backs Effort to Decriminalize Marijuana

The governor is a cancer survivor who favors access to medical cannabis.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There's a Democrat in the governor's mansion in Wisconsin and, perhaps unsurprisingly, that has led to a swift change in the government's approach to legalizing marijuana -- that is to say, now they are actually for it.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

Newly elected Gov. Tony Evers announced this month a proposal to decriminalize marijuana in Wisconsin and, at the same time, make medical marijuana legal. Scott Walker, the former Republican governor who Evers defeated in the November 2018 election, opposed legalizing marijuana.

Evers, a cancer survivor, said he well knows the side effects that cancer patients suffer, both from the disease and the treatment. He said in a news release that "people shouldn't be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately needed medication that can alleviate their suffering."

Related: New Jersey Inches Closer to Legalizing Marijuana Without Voter Referendum

Marijuana in the Midwest

If it happens, Wisconsin will join Upper Midwest neighboring states Minnesota and Illinois in making cannabis legal for medical use. In Michigan, where medical marijuana is already legal, voters approved marijuana for recreational use in the November election.

Currently, Wisconsin law calls for a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months for possession of marijuana when it's a first-time offense. The new proposal would decriminalize marijuana "possession, manufacturing or distribution" for 25 grams or less.

Importantly, the proposal would also block local jurisdictions from establishing ordinances that make possession of less than 25 ounces illegal. That avoids the potential for a patchwork of laws on cannabis possession across the state.

Evers, in the news release, specified that marijuana would need to be prescribed by a physician or a practitioner "under the direction of a physician." Cannabis would be allowed to alleviate the symptoms related to various medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain, severe nausea, seizure, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Related: Cannabis Social Equity Programs Are Imperfect but Critically Important

Voters Voice Approval

Evers undoubtedly felt emboldened by the results of the 2018 election. A host of referendums on whether to legalize marijuana were on the ballot in 16 counties and two cities. Wisconsin voters approved every one of them. As noted by the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, the state's voters were closely divided on who should be governor, but "they agree in overwhelming numbers on pot."

Part of the reason is that minorities face a much higher chance of getting arrested for marijuana possession than whites. The news released reported that Wisconsin "has the highest incarceration rate in the country for Black men."

Evers added, "Too many people, often persons of color, spend time in our criminal justice system just for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That doesn't make our communities stronger or safer."

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