MADISON (WKOW) – Madison Police Chief Mike Koval thinks Wisconsin should consider legalizing marijuana.
Koval said he's concerned about young people being hit with criminal offenses for marijuana possession. Koval said criminal charges for possession, no matter how minor, can bring long term consequences when offenders apply for jobs or to college.
“I'm concerned with having young people, particularly young people of color, brought into the criminal justice system with a record of an arrest for something like possession of marijuana. I just don't feel like that's an appropriate use of resources,” Koval said.
Koval said police have larger priorities, such as domestic violence, weapons based offenses and gang problems, to worry about. He said those take precedence over searching for marijuana offenders.
Koval said a regulated marijuana industry would lead to more tax revenues that could be steered into treatment and rehabilitation programs for hard drug users.
“I would like to see more diversionary programs to the criminal justice system, like drug courts with opportunities for community restitution and those kind of restorative justice initiatives,” he said.
“I'd like to see monies earmarked specifically for rehabilitation initiatives,” Koval said.
Koval said the specifics of what a regulated marijuana industry would entail should be left up to state lawmakers.
He said one option could be legalizing medical marijuana use. Koval said legalizing medical marijuana and observing the effects could be a good indicator of the ramifications that legalizing recreational marijuana might have on Wisconsin.
“Law enforcement officials sometimes are taken as a whole as being steadfastly opposed to having any dialogue on any drug curtailment, and I just want to stand up and say, 'You know what? There's at least one chief, in one municipality, that thinks we need to take a second look at it,” Koval said.
“I think as a society we owe it to ourselves to review public policy from time to time and I think this is an issue that's right for the time,” he said.
Koval added he is not condoning drug use.
“I'm not endorsing that people smoke marijuana by any means. But I'm saying that for those who do, I don't want to criminalize that behavior,” he said.
Governor Scott Walker, on a campaign stop in Beloit Thursday, cited the state of Colorado in discussing why he is opposed to legalizing marijuana.
Colorado and Washington have both legalized recreational marijuana.
“As much as (Colorado has) brought revenues in, they've also increased costs related to social services and law enforcement,” Walker said. “So i think it's a long ways out before it's clear as to what if anything would happen.”
Walker said he does not expect the Wisconsin legislature to legalize marijuana.
Defense attorney David Evans is a special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposes legalizing marijuana.
Evans said legalizing recreational marijuana creates more drug addicts. He said fatal, marijuana-involved OWI's in Colorado have increased since the state legalized pot.
Evans also said marijuana sales do not raise enough revenue to offset increases in healthcare that result from more people becoming dependent on the drug.
Evans said increasing cost in an effort to raise more revenue will merely steer those looking to get high to buy marijuana on the black market.
Evans also said it's a “myth” that police spend too much time and energy policing marijuana users. He said just one percent of state and federal prisoners are locked up on convictions of marijuana possession.
“Usually when people get busted for marijuana, it's because they got busted for something else and police found pot on them,” Evans said by phone Thursday.
The City of Madison's ordinance on marijuana possession indicates that casual possession of marijuana – that is possessing 112 grams or less – in a private place is not cause from criminal charges or a fine.
Those possessing 112 grams or less of marijuana in a public place can be hit with a municipal ticket of up to $100, according to the city's ordinances.
Being caught with more than 112 grams of marijuana results in a criminal offense.
Koval said said possessing 112 grams or less can result in criminal charges under state laws. But he said Madison officers are encouraged to police marijuana according to the municipal ordinances.