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ON THE DEFENSIVE: Marijuana law should go up in smoke

Anthony Cotton is a partner at Kuchler & Cotton SC, Waukesha. He is the vice president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and on the board of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

In November, the voters of Colorado and Washington supported initiatives that legalized marijuana within their states.

This result was unsurprising. For some time, the trend has been toward decriminalization. Eighteen other states permit the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The marijuana laws in Wisconsin, on the other hand, are senseless. We waste millions in taxpayer money to incarcerate people for a victimless crime.

Unlike tobacco and alcohol, marijuana does not create dependency, and people do not go through withdrawal when they stop using. Marijuana has never caused a single death from overdose.

Of course, the same cannot be said for countless other substances that are legal and flow freely in the community. Consider opiate prescription drugs, for example. Doctors frequently prescribe these drugs for pain, but the users often become addicted and unable to function without the drug.

Prosecutors, judges and criminal defense attorneys rarely, if ever, hear stories of marijuana users committing armed robberies or burglaries to support their weed habits. We do, however, read stories of opiate-addicted teenagers and adults committing such crimes.

It is nothing short of a travesty to label low-level, harmless marijuana users as felons.

In Wisconsin, a second offense for simple possession of marijuana — even if each possession charge was for shake, or 1 gram — is a Class I felony that carries a maximum of three and a half years in prison. And make no mistake about it, judges send plenty of people to prison for this crime.

The law is so strict that if four people pass a joint among themselves, each has committed the felony crime of marijuana distribution.

A criminal prosecution, even when it doesn’t result in a conviction, can be a life-altering event. This is especially true in Wisconsin where, in a matter of minutes, anyone can run a court records search on a free, public database to see which of our friends, neighbors or colleagues have been accused of crimes.

Do these laws make sense? Ask any prosecutors when they last saw a domestic violence case in which a husband got stoned and decided to attack his wife. Ask those same prosecutors how often they see domestic violence cases involving alcohol.

Prohibition doesn’t work because it doesn’t stop demand. Basic economics and history teach us that when demand exists, supply will follow.

Marijuana should be legalized and taxed. It will save money and benefit society.


  1. I like the point of your article, but the cartoon is downright offensive. In case you missed it– we turned out in full force in November.

  2. I work at a WI prison. When I informed Inmates of recently changed marajuana in Wash and Colorado they were pretty discouraged, When asked why they said that that is how they make their money. Now, they will have to obtain legitimate employment,

  3. The article is 100% correct but that cartoon is downright stupid. The days of such incorrect steeotypes are over. Cannabis users and advocates bust their a#* everyday, in their jobs, businesses and working for common sense reform. The true reason why Wisconsin’s outdated, racist and totally unwanted cannabis laws have been hard to overturn is because Career Politician Scott Walker and Republicans are standing in the way and blocking the will of the overwhelming majority of people in Wisconsin who want cannabis prohibition ended and want it legalized, taxed and regulated instead. Democrats in Wisconsin support this so this November, 2018, let’s vote these Republican charlatans out of office once and for all! Starting with Career Politician Scott Walker himself!

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