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Wisconsin Co. makes maximum penalty $1 for cannabis possession

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – The Rock County Board in Madison, Wisconsin, passed an ordinance change Thursday night to set the penalty for possessing 28 grams or less of cannabis to no more than a $1 fine.

While Rock Co. does not have the authority to legalize marijuana, Rock Co. Supervisor Jacob Taylor said they can minimize their participation in the enforcement of a law voters “so strongly oppose.” The county also reduced the penalty for possession of cannabis paraphernalia for the same $1 fine.

The change will only affect enforcement from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, but the penalty is unchanged for local police departments.

Taylor proposed the change in 2018 as a response to the Marijuana Advisory Referendum where voters were “overwhelmingly” supportive of the legalization of cannabis for recreational use.

The Rock County Board in Madison, Wisconsin, passed an ordinance change Thursday night to set the penalty for possessing 28 grams or less of cannabis to no more than a $1 fine.

Wisconsin Celebrates Hemp, and Anti-cannabis Republicans Rejoice

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

On October 18, Wisconsin Hemp Day, Gov. Tony Evers’ proclamation honored the “long, storied and proud history” of “research, education, innovation and industrialization of hemp” in the Badger State. Among the politicians who celebrated this development are some of cannabis’s staunchest enemies.

“Wisconsin was one of our nation’s leading producers of hemp in the first half of the 20th century, even producing fiber for the federal government to utilize during the World Wars,” Gov. Evers wrote. This is true, and it is only a small part of the role that hemp played in Wisconsin’s history.

A 1918 report from UW-Madison shows that Wisconsin was the second-largest hemp producer in the nation with 7,000 acres dedicated to it, which the university identified as “a national necessity,” adding that “the climate and soils of Wisconsin are particularly suited to the crop.” UW-Madison then believed that “hemp is now on firm footing in Wisconsin; the big obstacles have been overcome,” but they didn’t see Prohibition coming.

The Cannabis Divide Is Political

Religious organizations led the alcohol prohibition movement in the United States, but it was the influence of Republican Prohibition enforcer Harry Ansliger—who personally drafted the bill that would kill the hemp industry—that led to the ban and eventually the criminalization of cannabis. Wisconsin’s hemp economy crashed when their livelihood was made illegal by an act of Congress.

Our state’s farmers were particularly harmed by the Republican strategy. When the U.S. entered World War II and imported fibers were in short supply, the ban on hemp was lifted and Wisconsin farmers were encouraged to focus their efforts on growing cannabis for its fibrous qualities—only for the government to reinstate the ban and force our farmers to destroy their own crops once peace was signed.

To better establish that one wing of the political spectrum is and has long been an opponent of hemp, we will refer to hemp by its real name: cannabis. Hemp is cannabis in every sense. What we now call “industrial hemp” is simply cannabis plants that have been arbitrarily chosen for their low psychoactive effects—but they are still cannabis, can still be smoked and can still, to some extent, get you high and relaxed. The word “hemp” itself shares the same etymology as cannabis, it is a Germanic borrowing of the word that became the Greek “kannabis.” It is the same plant, the same word, which describes the same reality. Despite all that, modern politicians made an art form out of supporting hemp and opposing cannabis.

Ironically, politicians who now celebrate legal hemp include those who try to keep cannabis illegal—and they follow the political line of the men who destroyed Wisconsin’s hemp industry decades ago. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been the driving force behind the federal legalization of hemp in 2018, and he recently released footage of himself frolicking in a hemp field to show his support for the industry. However, McConnell makes no secret of his “ardent and steadfast commitment” to the eradication of marijuana.

When Gov. Evers announced October 18 as Wisconsin Hemp Day, Rep. Glenn Grothman—crowned one of the worst politicians in the state in terms of marijuana policies by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)—announced how “glad” he is “that our farmers are once again able to produce this lucrative, useful crop.” Grothman was co-sponsor of the No Welfare for Weed Act of 2015 and wrongly believes that legal marijuana causes homelessness. He also denounces what he calls “a marijuana lifestyle.”

The insistence that Republicans display to distinguish between hemp (cannabis) and marijuana (also cannabis) can be baffling. Although they strongly support hemp, Republicans are staunchly opposed to cannabis as a whole. On the other hand, Democrats have come out very strongly in favor of cannabis reform, their official platform for the presidential election even calling for de-scheduling and decriminalizing marijuana possession federally.

Virtually every local and state-level fight to liberalize cannabis laws involves Democrats, in favor of it, fighting elected Republicans trying to block these resolutions. That occurs even on the federal level: In 2019, the MORE Act made history by becoming the first federal marijuana reform bill approved by a congressional vote. With the exceptions of Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), all Republicans in attendance voted no or abstained, while every expressed Democratic vote was in favor of reform.

Hemp and Cannabis: Why One Without the Other?

Why, then, do Republicans support hemp? The answer is, naturally, money. As Grothman put it, hemp is very “lucrative.” Most importantly, it is lucrative for “the right people,” from the perspective of a Republican politician. The party relies disproportionately on rural votes, and hemp benefits farming communities far more than urban ones. Undoubtedly, McConnell supported federal hemp legalization because the voters of Kentucky, who keep him in power, will keep electing him if their economy is doing well, and agriculture in Kentucky sustains 260,000 jobs and $45 billion of economic output. Kentucky historically had two main cash crops: tobacco and hemp. When UW-Madison announced that Wisconsin was the nation’s second-biggest hemp producer, Kentucky was the first. Tobacco’s economic importance has been steadily declining for decades, imposing hemp as the logical alternative.

But then, why oppose marijuana? The legal marijuana industry is also extremely profitable. Additionally, in a country with legal hemp but illegal marijuana, the agricultural field is forced to spend time and resources to test all cannabis crops; if a batch turns out to have too potent, it has to be destroyed, which wouldn’t happen if all cannabis were legal.

The Republican choice to toe this line, trying to suck profit out of cannabis without legalizing it, can be explained by ideological arguments. Conservatives conserve; conservative voters grew up surrounded by Reefer Madness propaganda, they want to conserve that mindset, even though it has been thoroughly proven to be inaccurate. Republicans thrive on “tough on crime” policies, and nothing boosts crime statistics more than illegal marijuana: According to the FBI, despite cannabis being fully or partially legal in most states, there were more marijuana arrests in 2019 than arrests for all violent crimes combined. It also just happens that black people are at least 3.4 times more likely to be arrested and see the inside of a cell for a minor marijuana offense. Saying that Republican voters (if not their elected officials) often consider widespread arrests of black Americans to be a positive thing is not polite, but it is true.

By opposing the legalization and economic regulation of marijuana, Republicans like Mitch McConnell can have their cake and eat it too: Despite being federally illegal, state-legal marijuana businesses have to pay taxes, inflating a federal income that is then disproportionately redistributed to poorly performing states—like McConnell’s home state, Kentucky. Kentucky ranks second in the nation for dependency on federal dollars, and Republican-leaning states where marijuana is still banned top the list of recipients of federal money, which largely comes out of liberal states, where marijuana is often legal on the state level. While they are willing to jail hundreds of thousands of their constituents to keep marijuana illegal, Republicans are also first in line to reap the benefits of legal marijuana in progressive-thinking states. By keeping marijuana illegal locally, Republican leaders in these states can appear tough on crime, get the anti-drug conservative vote while still obtaining funding from the legal marijuana industry in neighboring states.

When October 18 rolls around next year and Republican politicians who otherwise violently oppose marijuana reform give lip service to the lowest common denominator of legal cannabis, keep in mind that these politicians are keeping arrest figures high and economic growth low to keep themselves in power. Keep in mind that hemp is cannabis like marijuana is cannabis. Benefitting from one while locking up innocent people for the other is not cause for celebration.

To read more Cannabis Connection articles, click here.

To read more articles by Jean-Gabriel Fernandez, click here.

As Wisconsin celebrates Hemp Day, remember that pro-hemp Republicans oppose cannabis, which is the exact same plant. ]]>