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ASSIGNMENT 13: Legalize marijuana in Wisconsin? Activists look to puff up support following election

By: Aaron Dimick Email
By: Aaron Dimick Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) --With voters in Colorado and Washington recently approving weed for recreational use, when will Wisconsin starting blazing up?

Two years ago, a proposal to legalize medical marijuana failed to make it to the Wisconsin Legislature.

But with two states voting to allow pot-smoking, there’s now a new push for having it legalized again.

Even though President Obama’s victory got a lot of attention on Election Night, marijuana also made headlines.

Colorado and Washington became the first two states in the U.S. to approve marijuana for recreational use.

Now there’s a focus on Wisconsin.

“It is being looked at in a little but more as a possible revenue-generating stream,” said Jay Selthofner, an activist with Northern Wisconsin NORML.

NORML stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

It is a grassroots organization that brings awareness to marijuana reform.

He said the movement to legalize pot here is gaining ground.

“What we’re hearing from constituents, what we’re hearing from people out there, they should just legalize it totally. General support in the public is there for some sort of legalization,” Selthofner said.

The activist said reform would go beyond the medical aspects and shoot for a statewide decriminalization.

“Our marijuana reform would be very beneficial to our state, to our citizens, to our taxpayers all the way down the line,” Selthofner said.

Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said he doesn’t believe legalizing marijuana would alleviate overcrowding in prisons or save tax dollars.

“It's not backed up with facts,” said Cramer.

Cramer said pot is already partially decriminalized.

“We don't put people that use marijuana in jail; we put the drug dealer and the distributor in. The small-time guy that's distributing a pound, a couple pounds of marijuana, very rarely go to prison unless there's a huge criminal history behind them,” said Cramer.

In the City of Eau Claire, carrying 25 grams or less of marijuana comes with a $515.50 fine.

The Eau Claire Police Department said if someone repeats that offense, they would face a criminal arrest.

The sheriff said he has concerns that freeing up weed could lead to further drug problems.

“You don't find a cocaine addict that just went to cocaine or heroin. Marijuana is still a gateway to the harder drugs,” said Cramer.

Right now there are 18 states that allow medical marijuana, including neighboring Michigan.

Activists fear this is money we’re missing out on.

“We've already saw a mass exodus people from Wisconsin. Good people pulling their families and businesses and moving to a medical state,” said Selthofner.

In order to get marijuana legalization before the Wisconsin legislature, there would need to be support from republicans.

The GOP currently controls the Assembly, Senate and Governor's Office.

Activists say they're currently working to get that support.


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