Voters in Dane County and throughout the state will have a chance to weigh in on marijuana legalization this November. Nearly a dozen counties have approved or are considering referendum questions for the ballot.
The Dane County board of Supervisors is voting Thursday on whether to add a referendum question to the November ballot asking residents if marijuana should be legal and regulated like alcohol.
The resolution was introduced by County Sup. Yogesh Chawla and passed by the executive committee recommending approval to the County Board, which votes July 12. The question appearing on the ballot would be:
” Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older?”
Chawla says when he introduced the resolution he immediately had 19 other supervisors co-sponsor it.
“We’re excited to get that question on the ballot and were excited to create some momentum going forward so we see some changes at the state level in Wisconsin like we’ve been seeing in varsity of states across the United States,” Chawla says.
Chawla says he anticipates a political shift in the state after the November elections and the referendum will put focus on an issue a lot of voters care about.
“We think by having sensible reforms in terms of legislation,taxation, and regulation we can really fix some of the problems accumulating at the state level over the last decade or so,” Chawla says.
If approved, Dane would join Milwaukee, and La Crosse Counties, which have already approved marijuana legalization questions for ballot. Resolutions for ballot questions will be voted on by the Langlade County Board July 16, Walworth County Board in September and the St. Croix County Board votes in August. Proposals for referendums have also been introduced in Brown, Rock, Marathon, Winnebago and Sauk counties. Any ballot resolution must be approved in August to appear on the ballot.
Shelley Kennedy is a board member for Madison’s chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, or NORML. Kennedy says many people throughout Wisconsin have asked how to advocate for legalization.
“We would let them know they need to contact their county supervisors and let them know that this to be on the agenda,” Kennedy says. “It just really grew from there. We are up to ten or eleven counties”
Kennedy says while the referenda are not binding and only advisory, they still can influence change.
“If you’re coming out to vote on this referendum and you agree marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, then you’re much much more likely to vote for pro-legalization candidates,” Kennedy says.
Kennedy says the referenda will also create valuable data, especially in rural parts of the state. They’re also hoping to see support numbers rise from the 2014 advisory referendum in Dane County.
Advocates for marijuana legalization also point to harm and cost of incarcerating those convicted of cannabis possession, which disproportionately impacts people of color. Unlike most other states, a second charge for marijuana possession of any amount is considered a felony in Wisconsin. Legalization could come through other means after November as well. Democratic candidates for governor including Mike McCabe, Mahlon Mitchell, Tony Evers, Kelda Roys, Paul Soglin, Matt Flynn have stated support for legalization. A bill end the federal prohibition of marijuana also circulating congress.
Cameron Bren reported this story.