State Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, speaks at a news conference Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in Madison, Wisc. Jarchow joined three Democratic lawmakers to introduce a measure that would loosen the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Wisconsin. He said voters in his rural, conservative district have been urging him to take action on the issue. (Cara Lombardo, Associated Press)

Wisconsin Republican joins Democratic bid to reduce weed penalties

MADISON, Wis. — A Republican state lawmaker joined three Democrats in a longshot effort to loosen the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Wisconsin.

Rep. Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake, said at a Tuesday news conference that he realized the need for the proposal after voters he met in his district repeatedly urged him to reconsider the state’s approach to marijuana.

“If people in rural Northwestern Wisconsin in a conservative district think we need to change course, then maybe we do,” he said.

The measure from Jarchow, Sen. Fred Risser and Reps. Evan Goyke and Jonathan Brostoff would cap the penalty for possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana at $100 and remove the possibility of jail time or being charged with a felony for subsequent offenses. The current maximum penalty is $1,000 and six months in jail for a first conviction and any subsequent convictions are felonies. It wouldn’t change the penalties for marijuana dealers who possess large amounts of the drug.

“It seems to me to be pretty odd that possession of a couple joints could land you in jail or prison,” Jarchow said.

Risser said having a small amount of marijuana doesn’t endanger other peoples’ lives and therefore shouldn’t be harshly punished. Marijuana possession arrests account for about 5 percent of all arrests, according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis.

The proposal faces an uphill battle with Republicans who control the Legislature. Jarchow said he hasn’t spoken to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, but is encouraged that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he was open to medical marijuana early in the session. Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Fitzgerald said at the time they have no interest in legalizing medical marijuana. A spokesman for Walker and a spokeswoman for Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to messages about whether they’d support loosening the penalties for possession of small amounts.

Two Democratic proposals related to medical marijuana haven’t gotten hearings.

“I’m not naive to think that we are going to pass this and get it signed into law,” Jarchow said, adding that he hopes the bill will get a hearing and start a bipartisan conversation.

Follow Cara Lombardo on Twitter: @CaraRLombardo