By Evan Casey
Nearly 200 protestors gathered at MacArthur Square Saturday afternoon to rally for the legalization of marijuana across Wisconsin. This was the 8th annual Cannabis march in Milwaukee, and many speakers and protesters discussed the medical and criminal justice benefits to legalization.
Currently in Wisconsin, a second offense for possession of marijuana is a Class I felony and is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3.5 years, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. A 2013 ACLU Report found that, “Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.” A 2015 Public Policy Forum Report Brief titled Marijuana in Milwaukee, found that although African Americans make up approximately 26 percent of Milwaukee County’s population, they accounted for 86 percent of those found guilty of a second or subsequent marijuana possession offense in 2013 and 2014.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of NORML was present at the event, educating people about marijuana. Jaz Morgan of NORML came to the rally to discuss the many benefits of legalizing marijuana.
“I’m here for criminal law reform…African Americans are in jail because of petty marijuana charges,” said Morgan. “I came out to spread the word and to feel and be assured that people agree with legalization.”
Wisconsin Rep. David Bowen came to the rally to speak about the benefits of legalization. He introduced a bill in February that would essentially prohibit employers from demanding drug screenings that test for THC, the chemical responsible for the majority of marijuana’s effects.
“We need to outlaw drug testing for THC,” said Bowen in a speech. “It’s about criminalizing people…about people who need a hand up, not a hand out.”
Bowen said he wants people to engage with their elected officials to discuss this issue.
“There are jobs and employers all over the state that continue to test positive for a substance that is harmless,” said Bowen. “It’s an ongoing process to make sure you are engaging elected officials even outside the election cycle.”
Jafar Banda, the founder of Community Uprise of UW-Milwaukee, says he believes legalization will help reduce the prison population by 50 percent. He also said it will help end racial profiling.
“We know that black men are racially profiled, and we know they aren’t the only ones smoking marijuana,” said Banda.
Rick Banks, an organizer with Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, also came to the rally to show his support for legalization. He said that the new taxes created from legalization will help build better schools and roads across Wisconsin.
“It’s not the worst thing that’s legal,” said Banks. “Alcohol and prescription medicine do much more damage than marijuana.”