Nearly three weeks after introducing a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, has attracted six co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Joining Sargent’s pot proposal in the Assembly are Reps. Terese Berceau and Brett Hulsey of Madison, Rep. Sondy Pope of Cross Plains, Rep. Fred Clark of Baraboo and Rep. Tod Ohnstad of Kenosha.

The lone Senate co-sponsor is Sen. Nikiya Harris of Milwaukee.

Sargent acknowledges that the support her bill has garnered does not reflect the influence necessary to get majority support from her own party’s caucus, let alone the Republican-controlled Legislature.

But she thinks it’s a good start in the long-term campaign to realize a policy that was recently implemented in Colorado and Washington state.

“I think the fact that we have the sponsors is good news,” she said. “I’m impressed with the list we have. I think there are probably other people who are supportive of it.”

That Harris signed on to the bill appears to be evidence of progress on Sargent’s cause in recent weeks. Last month Harris was noncommittal on the issue of marijuana legalization, saying only that the status quo had to be “carefully reexamined” in light of the cost, both social and economic, of arresting people for non-violent drug offenses.

But in a statement to the Cap Times on Tuesday, Harris said she was ready to get behind full legalization.

“My decision to support Rep. Sargent’s bill comes after reflecting on the significant costs of our current marijuana policy and the growing problem of mass incarceration in our state,” she said, noting the disparate effect pot crackdowns have had on African-Americans.

“While studies show that whites' and African-Americans' marijuana usage is fairly consistent, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites,” she said.

The only concerns Sargent reported hearing from fellow Democrats came from some supporters of a bill that would legalize marijuana solely for medical purposes. In the past, Republicans have alleged that medical marijuana is a Trojan horse that pot advocates use to eventually make the drug accessible to recreational smokers.

“I’ve heard from some people who really support the (medical marijuana) bill that this might be some muddying of the conversation,” she said.

Indeed, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, a strong proponent of medical marijuana declined to answer questions about recreational pot earlier this year. He did not respond to another request for comment on the issue Tuesday. 

Sargent does not believe the bill will be addressed in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.

“While I’d love to say we’ll have a public hearing on this bill, more than anything this is to begin a conversation,” she said.

Of the bill co-sponsors, Clark recently announced he will not run for reelection and Hulsey, who has had a public falling out with Democratic Party leadership, is facing two primary opponents and has not decided whether he will run for reelection again.

One of his opponents, Madison Ald. Mark Clear, indicated he would support the pot legalization bill, saying “prohibition has failed.”

Clear said that he believes seeing Colorado and Washington cope with legalization could help reluctant politicians in Wisconsin embrace the concept of legal pot.

“I think that there’s some fear that politically that might be somewhat of a loser,” he said. “I actually don’t think that’s the case.”

Clear’s only declared primary opponent, fellow Madison Ald. Lisa Subeck, is not willing to commit to legalization yet, although like most Democrats, she emphasizes her support for legalization of medical cannabis and suggests the state shouldn’t be spending significant time and money cracking down on pot offenders.

“I am open to considering Rep. Sargent's bill for full legalization and look forward to doing additional research on the bill's impact before committing my support,” she said recently.

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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(27) comments


I got hit by a car almost 9 years ago and had a traumatic brain injury. Since my recovery I've spent usually 1-2 days/wk nausea, vomiting, terrible headaches, dehydration, etc. Been to clinics and ER's more than I can count to treat whats been called cyclic vomiting, a disease with no cure. Been put on drugs for people with cancer and reflux and many other illnesses I don't have. Then one day while sick at a clinic here in Wi I was asked by the Dr. if I had considered the use of pot to help since medicines were not working, my response... "I'd love to know if it'd help but I'd prefer to not get arrested n lose my son cause I need to stop puking." Guess here in WI they prefer people puking in plastic cups while driving to ER's over the danger of smoking pot one's own home


Mother's milk is a gateway drug to cow's milk.
Cow's milk is a gateway drug to the hard stuff: cheese.
We all know that cheese leads to your arteries being clogged with cholesterol.
Cheese probably produces hundreds of heart-attack deaths every year in Wisconsin.
But you can't just blame the users; they were simply misled.
Clearly what we need to do is round up those evil dealers — the lactating mothers — and slap 'em behind bars for a good, attention-getting 15-20 years. That'll send a strong message, you betcha!


Good for Sargent and the bill's supporters. 1. It makes economic sense especially in a state where agriculture is so important. This would be a huge cash crop and growing it and harvesting it could create lots of jobs. 2. Like it or not, pot is available almost everywhere. Making it illegal has caused huge law enforcement problems that are expensive (tying up police, judges and courts). Prohibition of beer didn't work either. 3. It is not harmful as long as it is not abused. 4. It could provide huge revenue sources for government and education.


It's the gateway drug.. With the major heroin epidemic we are facing, do you think these people just started using heroin??? No they started on Pot.. Our family went thru this & I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy


Spuds, Actually, the current heroin epidemic in Wisconsin is tied to abusing prescription painkillers. Check out at the Wis DOJ website.

Richard. It is an illusion that legalizing MJ will make it harder to get. Just look at the Heroin epidemic. It mostly starts from prescription drugs. Is there a lethal dose for nicotine? Sugar? Caffene? They all have negative medical effects and are still somewhat legal. Legalizing MJ because it has no lethal does, while ignoring the harm it does, is disingenuous.

The problem that has to be solved here is that current research indicates that Adult brain functioning happens much later that we thought. Something like in the early 20's. So making it legal for 18-21 year old's doesn't solve the problems created by adolescents use. The young "adults" are still far more at risk than anyone is admitting.

The other problem here is that I have a right to not be subjected to your smoke. None of the legislation I've seen addresses this. In most multi unit housing there is a problem of whose rights trump, the smoker, or the guy next door who has to smell it? Don't be suprised if you see many apartment buildings going "smoke free" as a way to manage this. In my opinion, the majority of people have a greater right than the MJ smokers.

Your public policy argument is good for medical use and decriminalization of personal use. Not so for legalization of recreational use. I respect your opinion that more lives are ruined because of marijauna because it is illegal, but that is just your opinion. Since cops aren't out looking for the MJ user primarily, and usually get involved because of some other crime, wouldn't it make sense that the mj possession wasn't the reason for police intervention? And therefore only a part of the "ruining peoples lives" argument.


Let us grant* that you are absolutely correct that some pot use by some people is a bad thing. It does not follow from that that all pot use by all people is so bad that it needs to be criminalized. If we have to err, why not, in a free society, err on the side of individual freedom and let people make up their own minds?

I am totally with you on the subject of prohibiting smokers of anything from inflicting their smoke on innocent bystanders. But you do acknowledge, I hope, that this differs from letting people do what they wish with their own bodies.

*not merely for the sake of argument but because it's true


In fact, most started with prescription pain killers.


Ummm I think his son is still alive...


Not what the words 'literally destroyed" literally mean.

Are you suggesting that the death may have been exaggerated?


Pot literally destroyed my son's life at age 16. (And subsequently the rest of the family's life and budget) There is a huge price tag to allowing recreational marijuana! Don't fool yourself.


I'm sorry your son is dead, but you must realize that there is no lethal dose of marijuana recognized by medical science, and it's just crazy to make public policy for a state of nearly 6,000,000 people based on the idiosyncratic bad experience of a single family. Far more lives have been ruined by the fact that marijuana is illegal than by the drug itself.


Sorry to hear about your Son. Addiction is a disease, not a crime. If you read the bill, it is about permitting recreational use for adults, not children. Children should not use marijuana recreationally.

Regulating marijuana sales would make it more difficult for children to get marijuana. It would also generate millions in tax revenue and reduce law enforcement costs.


What does the police have to say about it! The Ganza caucus now on the radar - take note cops.


It's really nice to see someone with some intelligence commenting for a change. I'm not being sarcastic as most Liberals would think I am. It truly is nice.
Thank you


You have no idea about parole. Prison population would not drop. Most of the people on parole are not allowed to use alcohol or any controlled substance legal or not. It is a violation of their parole & they will go back to prison for using it.

Of course all you liberals want it legalized. Most of you talk & think like your stoned already..


Who will be the last to go to jail under an unjust law?


Liberal says "alcohol consumption and alcohol related fatalities would PLUMMET and possibly millions of lives would be saved if we decided to not prohibit a plant"

Do you have even an article from High Times that suggests this is true? I mean, you're suggesting that if pot were legal, alcohol use would plummet. Do you realize that you are demonstrating the effects of pot use on your thinking?


"Plummet" is perhaps an exaggeration, but the economics behind the original statement are undisputed. If you make, say, grape juice really cheap, plentiful, and easily available, it'll cut into the sales of orange juice. There are a zillion supply-demand curves to illustrate this effect.

joe kallas
joe kallas

The positives by far out weigh the negatives yet legalization is a struggle. Usage would probably go down if it were legal. We would save millions as a society. Prison populations would drop because parole could no longer be revoked for usage. The majority want legalization yet very few politicians have the courage to support it. As usual the people have to lead and the politicians will follow. What do we pay them for?


Beyond medical use, what are the positives of recreational use? Are there any benefits to chronic use? I'm asking about actual use of the plant, not the social impact of prohibition and the drug war.

FYI, PO's are constantly revoking people for the use of alcohol. Using legal MJ would be no different. People would still be revoked for drug use.

Advocates couch the argument in terms of the positives outweighing the negatives, and then they go on to state all of the negatives social impact without speaking to the positives of using MJ in real terms. Are you different?


I'm asking about actual use of the plant, not the social impact of prohibition and the drug war.

Why on Earth would you choose to ignore those? It's like asking my Uncle Sherwood if he enjoyed his trip to Italy but please leave out any of that nasty business about the mortar shell that got him on the beach at Anzio.


Hey liberal, you say "something that causes no physical harm to the consumer or anyone else?"

Users of alcohol, opiates, sugar, tobacco, and marijuana always say stuff like this. It just isn't true. You diminish the argument for legalization with this misinformation. Please do a google search on MJ addiction, perhaps study the effects of chronic MJ use and epigenetics, on relationships, on motivation, on health. I agree that prohibition and most of the drug policy has failed. But denying any negative impact of use at all is misleading and uninformed.

Medical marijuana is a whole different argument. Medical MJ users don't invite their friends over for 5 hours of smoking.

I'm curious, if recreational use was legal, should your landlord protect your right to quiet enjoyment of the premises to use pot, or your neighbors right to live in an environment that doesn't smell like skunk?

BTW......My plant of choice is coca. Can that be legalized too?


Let's free up law enforcement to tackle the real issues: crooked politicians, white collar crime, and while we're at it stop all the entrapment crap.


Ahh, I get it. Took a second. It's about control and prejudice. There are a lot of good people in Wisconsin, but unfortunately many were poisoned by government propaganda and lies championed by Richard Nixon and later Nancy Reagan's "this is your brain on drugs". It's a real shame that so many are unwilling to open their minds a bit and let the "reefer madness" spill out and make room for logic. Wisconsin and the rest of the World for that matter would find that alcohol consumption and alcohol related fatalities would PLUMMET and possibly millions of lives would be saved if we decided to not prohibit a plant.....If only we had some scientific evidence for them, then I'm sure they would come around (sarcasm, sorry I couldn't resist).


Huh? So let me get this straight. Not a single Republican has signed onto a bill that might reduce the cost to government of enforcement of something that causes no physical harm to the consumer or anyone else?

Don't most conservatives proclaim to be all about personal freedom? Removing unnecessary intrusion by the government is supposed to be their mission is it not?

I think that many Republicans in the legislature of Wisconsin feel and have felt emboldened by Scott Walker's success at screwing you guys and getting rewarded by surviving the chance to remove him. Nothing encourages a bully like encouraging a bully.....


the alcohol lobby will prevent marijuana from becoming legal in WI
they have a monopoly on recreational drugs
and one thing we know about American industry is that it is willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain (and grow) their power

In CA for instance they spent $9 million against legalization.

look at our drunk driving laws, and you see the power of "the brewers" and "the tavern league"


No Republicans. Ground breaking news there..

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