Also included in Governor Evers’ budget proposal: legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use.
Legalizing marijuana has remained steadily popular. 64 percent of voters are now in favor of legalization, according to a Marquette Law School poll of registered voters conducted last October. That poll also found support for legalization has grown steadily over the past decade.
It’s not the first time the Governor has proposed legalization. Four years ago, in his 2019 budget proposal, Evers proposed legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of recreational marijuana.
And two years ago, in his 2021 budget proposal, Evers proposed legalization of recreational marijuana. Both proposals were shot down by the Republican-led legislature.
This go-around, the Governor says he’s proposing legalizing recreational weed – but that he was open to compromise by signing a bill to legalize medical marijuana instead.
Almost all neighboring states have legal marijuana in one form or another. Recreational use of cannabis is legal in both Illinois and Michigan. Medical use is legal in Minnesota, but a bill to permit recreational use for adults over the age of 21 is expected in the next few months.
Advocates for legalization point to the potential for tax revenue. Michigan alone collected $111 million the last fiscal year.
Ari Brown, a Senior Research Associate with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, which just published a new analysis of the current landscape of marijuana policy, says that Wisconsin’s potential financial gains depend on a number of variables: “Speaking of implementation, I think another facet of this is, you know, if Wisconsin were to have some sort of recreational program, there’s a lot of different factors that would go into the kind of ramping up and implementation efforts. So one of them is the number of dispensaries, one of them is the level of the tax. So Michigan only has a ten percent excise tax, whereas Illinois has much higher taxes, and so one of the things that you see is that Illinois – even with kind of lower sales basically throughout all of 2022 still makes more on tax revenue because they tax at a much higher rate.”
The same report found that half of Wisconsin adults 21 and older already live within a 75 minute drive to a dispensary in a neighboring state.
Brown says, “So it would really take a pretty big effort and a quick ramping up for Wisconsin to see, you know, pretty significant revenue even within the first couple of years.”
A patchwork of marijuana laws already exist in Wisconsin. In several Wisconsin cities, possession of marijuana is decriminalized, although buying or selling is still illegal. In Madison, an ordinance permitting use inside your home has been on the books since 1977. But because the drug is still illegal under state and federal statute, whether or not you might face a fine or jail time depends on the law enforcement agency that gets involved.
Another study from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, conducted from 2012-2015, suggested that inconsistency between state and local law enforcement has worsened the arrest rates for Black residents, with Wisconsin having the highest in the country. African Americans account for 72% of low level arrests in Milwaukee, even as the Common Council issued a $1 fine for possession as penalty.
Opponents to the proposal say that rates of addiction could worsen with more widespread use. They also argue it may be hazardous on the roads, given Wisconsin’s reputation as a national leader in DUIs. While top Republican state lawmakers have repeatedly opposed legislative measures, a movement to legalize medical marijuana could be on the horizon. Current Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told reporters earlier this year that there could be more support from his caucus this session.
That’s as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told WISN-TV that his caucus wasn’t ready to approve medical marijuana, while he personally supports regulated access for medical use.
The budget now heads to Republican lawmakers, where it is expected that the budget will be significantly rewritten.
Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Policy Forum.