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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013

Issue of the Week: Micromanaging Pot Prosecutions

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Wisconsin’s Republican legislators just can’t help themselves.

They’re always talking about how much they hate big government. But once they’re in power they make government bigger by getting involved in local government matters.

Now they’re second-guessing local prosecutors.

An under-the-radar Republican-backed bill is making its way through both houses of the state Legislature that would allow local and county governments to take up marijuana possession cases that were dismissed or were not charged by local prosecutors. Seems that DAs have not been pressing charges for very minor pot cases because they don’t have the resources to pursue them and don’t want to clog up the courts with nonviolent drug cases.

The bill has passed committees in the state Assembly and Senate, so it very well could become law with the Republicans in charge.

But what’s the point? Republicans argue that local governments could make money from the fines resulting from these cases despite the fact that the locally elected district attorney has decided otherwise. And of course they need to prove that they’re tougher on crime and more anti-drug than their opponent in the next election.

We all know that there’s no need for this policy. People who possess small amounts of pot are not a threat to society. More and more states are enacting enlightened laws that regulate and tax marijuana in a responsible way. And if Republicans really wanted to help local DAs, legislators would make sure that prosecutors’ offices are fully staffed with fairly paid attorneys and the courts are adequately funded since covering the salaries of the attorneys in the DA’s offices is the responsibility of the Legislature.

Republicans need to focus on what’s really plaguing our state: a stagnant economy made worse by their misguided “tea party” economic policies, a governor who is raising his national political profile instead of working to make Wisconsin a better state, and a Legislature that’s riding roughshod over Wisconsin traditions, including respecting local elected officials’ jurisdiction.

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