Wisconsin Weekly: Pot possession brings big consequences; WI lawmakers propose relief

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Marijuana convictions long-lasting; ‘toxic’ UW-Madison lab tied to suicide; voting machine company questioned; critically ill patients turned back from MKE hospitals


Of note: This week we are proud to feature the latest two installments of The Cannabis Question series. In these stories, reporter Natalie Yahr unveils the long-lasting and at-times life-changing consequences of possession of marijuana — a substance that has been legalized for medical or recreational uses in 33 states. Those consequences for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites include trouble getting jobs, housing and student financial aid. But a bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers has proposed making it easier to wipe cannabis-related and other low-level crimes from a person’s record.

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Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch

Across Wisconsin, there were more than 17,000 arrests for marijuana possession and more than 1,800 arrests for marijuana sales in 2018. Arrest and conviction records can make it harder to get jobs, professional licenses, housing, financial aid for higher education and government assistance. Here, a 23-year-old Madison, Wis., resident smokes a joint in a downtown apartment on March 31.

How a little pot can lead to big consequences for tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents

Wisconsin Watch — October 26, 2019

Michael was sentenced to 18 months of probation and a six-month driver’s license suspension for misdemeanor marijuana possession. It set off years of consequences, including what Michael described as “a life of petty crime.” He said, “The record  just follows you forever and ever and ever.”

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

Brian Britt cuts the hair of DeUndre Moore at the Inspire Barber and Beauty Salon, which he owns, in Madison, Wis., on May 8. Britt opened the salon in 2017 and said he had difficulty finding a space to rent due to having a number of convictions on his record, including possession with intent to deliver marijuana in 2000.

‘I’m still discriminated against’: Wisconsin lawmakers propose easing burdens on marijuana offenders

Wisconsin Watch — October 26, 2019

When Madison barber and business owner Brian Britt, 42, stepped up to a folding table in the entryway of the Urban League of Greater Madison, he had a single goal in his mind: Wipe from his record the decades-old criminal convictions he says are holding him back. Nineteen years later, he is hoping to make those convictions less public. “(I’m) cleaning my background up so I can get a better life,” he said, “so things don’t stagnate me like they used to.”

Steve Apps / Wisconsin State Journal

A graduate student in the College of Engineering died of suicide three years ago. Several changes related to lab work environments and mental health resources have been made since then.

‘Toxic’ lab lasted for years. UW-Madison had little idea until a student died by suicide

Wisconsin State Journal — October 28, 2019

Graduate students described the work environment under engineering professor Akbar Sayeed as “toxic” and “abusive.” One said he compared them to “slaves” who must learn to endure pain because it would last only four or five years. In 2016, John Brady’s seventh year on campus in a program that typically lasts five or six, he started secretly recording Sayeed screaming at students in the lab. In October 2016, at age 28, Brady killed himself. Read the follow-up story: UW-Madison failed to inform federal agency of ‘abusive’ professor’s conduct, paid leave.

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

A sign is seen outside the polling place at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wis., on Feb. 20, 2018.

The market for voting machines is broken. This company has thrived in it.

ProPublica — October 29, 2019

In the glare of the hotly contested 2018 elections, things did not go ideally for ES&S, the nation’s largest manufacturer of voting technology, which makes many of Wisconsin’s voting machines. Johnson County, Georgia, subsequently terminated its contract with ES&S after brand new equipment functioned in ways that made it difficult to know whether some people had voted more than once. Earlier from Wisconsin Watch: How hackers could attack Wisconsin’s elections and what state officials are doing about it

Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

An exam room is seen at the Mayo Clinic Health Systems clinic in Arcadia, Wisconsin, on Sept. 19, 2019. The area’s hospital closed in 2011 and this new clinic was built to meet the needs of the area’s rural residents.

Two Milwaukee women were turned away from hospitals and died. One was having a stroke; the other had heart trouble.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — October 28, 2019

No federal agency tracks when hospitals close their doors to ambulances, a practice known as ambulance diversion. It’s impossible to know how many people are affected each year when ambulances are blocked from taking patients to the closest, best-equipped hospital. Through its own research, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has identified at least 21 deaths nationwide since 1990 — a number that likely vastly underestimates the total given how common diversions are and the risks that experts have identified in the practice.

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