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Wisconsin Court Upholds, California Legislature Reconsiders "Smoke a Joint" Laws


May 1995

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals for the Second District ruled April 19 that Wisconsin's "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" law is constitutional (Cary Segall, "Driver's License Suspension Upheld," Wisconsin State Journal, Apr. 20, 1995, p. 3B).

The Wisconsin law requires the suspension of a driver's license of anyone convicted of dealing or possessing drugs. Gary L. Wolfe of Sheboygan was convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in his home. The judge fined him $700, required probation for two years, and suspended his license for six months.

Wolfe's lawyer had argued that the license suspension is unconstitutional because the drug offense has no relation to driving or traffic safety. The appeals court ruled that the suspension is constitutional because it was meant to deter future drug crimes.

California has a similar law, which will expire on December 1. Two competing bills in the California legislature promise to decide the fate of the so-called "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" law in that state.

California's "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" law requires that anyone convicted of any drug offense lose his/her license for a period of six months regardless of whether the offense was driving-related. Before the law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in California was punishable by a citation with a maximum fine of $100.

Federal law requires that each state make a decision about "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" legislation or lose federal highway funds. California stands to lose $100 million if it refuses to make a decision about the law (see "'Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License' Law Goes Into Effect in California," NewsBriefs, Dec. 1994).

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) has introduced S.B. 1198, which would opt out of the license suspension approach. A.B. 1304, introduced by Assemblyman Larry Bowler (R- Elk Grove), would extend "Smoke a Joint, Lose Your License" indefinitely. California Governor Pete Wilson is backing Bowler's bill.