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Rep. Sargent: Serious about Legalizing Marijuana in WI

PHOTO: State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) believes the worst thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it's illegal. She has introduced legislation to change that. Photo courtesy Rep. Sargent's office.
PHOTO: State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) believes the worst thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it's illegal. She has introduced legislation to change that. Photo courtesy Rep. Sargent's office.
February 12, 2014

MADISON, Wis. - Since she introduced legislation to legalize marijuana possession and use late last month, state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, says her phone has been ringing constantly.

"The majority of the calls that we have been receiving in my office since the introduction of this bill are not people that are living in my district,” she said, “but they are people that live across Wisconsin that actually start out as if they are in a confessional, saying, 'I wouldn't have ever voted for you - you have a 'D' next to your name - but this is something that we need to do.' "

Sargent expected opposition to the bill, but said it would provide additional revenue for the state, would mean time and cost-savings for law enforcement, and would help address Wisconsin's huge racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, has introduced legislation to step up enforcement of marijuana offenses, but Sargent said she believes the thinking that marijuana is a dangerous "gateway drug" is outmoded.

"I think we've created that narrative,” she said. “It was put on a list of very dangerous drugs at the federal level, and we needed to have a reason for it being there. We had to create that narrative."

Some are skeptical of her claim that legalization would create more jobs in Wisconsin, but she pointed out that local manufacturers already produce equipment for legal grow operations in other states.

"Those are real jobs at real companies in Wisconsin that are sending the equipment that they are producing out of the state,” she said. “I know that if we created this legalization in our state, we would be creating jobs. These are businesses that pay their employees well.

"It's not the government's business to tell us what to do in the privacy of our homes,” she said. “We as individual citizens of our country should have personal choice, and that personal choice, I think - one of the lines that I feel through my tens of thousands of conversations that I've had with people across Wisconsin - is, 'Are you hurting yourself and other people in your community, or is it just that it might be offensive to someone else?' "

Sargent said her extensive research for the bill has shown, in her words, "The most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it's illegal."

The text of Sargent’s bill, LRB 3671, is online at jayselthofner.com. Thiesfeldt's legislation, SB150/AB164, is at docs.legis.wisconsin.gov.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI