Despite continued opposition from the state legislature, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D) is reigniting his push for cannabis law reform, and he’s going bolder than ever.
Past Efforts for Weed Legalization in Wisconsin
When constructing his budget proposal in 2019, newly-elected Gov. Evers announced plans to include the decriminalization of marijuana possession and the legalization of medical cannabis. The changes would mean that, in Wisconsin, possessing small amounts of pot would no longer be prosecuted as a crime, and even civil citation penalties would be abolished for possession of less that 26 grams.
As for specifics on Evers’ initial proposal for medical marijuana – sellers must be Wisconsinites, all weed must be grown in-state, and license fees, surcharges, and sales tax, Wisconsin would rake in a predicted $2.4 million within two years.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum, a nonpartisan resource of research and education, published a report on Governor Evers’ approach to cannabis law reform, deeming it reasonable. The report reads, “his proposed medical program would keep the state in line with regional trends and public opinion, and his decriminalization proposal would create a uniform policy statewide.”
However, those specific budget proposals were shut down by Wisconsin’s Republican lawmakers, as were past legalization efforts by Democratic state representatives back in 2013 and 2015.
Many republican lawmakers disagree with the decriminalization’s reasonability, with Wisconsin State Senator Alerta Darling (R) remarking, “it’s really off the wall scary.” A spokesperson for the governor replied, “what is scary is Republicans’ complete and total disregard for the will of the people.”
Wisconsin Public Support of Cannabis Reform
While Wisconsin’s Republican legislative leaders have been in stark opposition to cannabis legalization, they can’t deny the inevitable for much longer. Between neighboring adult-use marijuana states like Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan and the growing support of cannabis law reform in their home state, the clock is ticking for representatives in support of prohibition.
Supporters of reevaluating cannabis laws and broadening marijuana liberation often argue the value in providing an alternative treatment for many medical patients, in addition to raising state revenue, saving taxpayer money in law enforcement, and lessening racial imbalances in the justice system. And those points of contention seem to be growing in popularity, according to a recent poll by the Marquette University Law School. Nearly 83% of Wisconsin voters were shown to be in support of medical marijuana legalization, and nearly 60% of the same pool approved of recreational pot legalization too.
In reference to the poll, Gov. Evers lamented, “when more than 80 percent of our state supports medical marijuana . . . and elected officials can ignore these numbers without consequence, folks, something’s wrong.”
Other Governors’ Push for Legalization of Cannabis
Wisconsin’s Tony Evers isn’t the only U.S. governor recognizing the public’s swell of support for cannabis legalization. A trio of officials from states on the east coast have their sights set on the adult-use cannabis market as we head into 2021:
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has attempted to pass cannabis legalization through budget proposals on a couple occasions, and he plans on trying so again this upcoming year. Along with him in pro-cannabis efforts are Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who have both recently attempted to “lay the groundworks to legalize marijuana” in their budget proposals, to varying degrees of success.
Invigorated by a series of cannabis rights victories across the 2020 election season, along with the potential tax revenue boost that comes along with legalization, Gov. Evers is eager to open Wisconsin up to the benefits of medical and adult-use marijuana.
The Path Forward for Wisconsin Weed Reform
There’s no doubt that a legal cannabis market would energize a pandemic-ridden economy in Wisconsin. According to figures released by New Frontier Data, marijuana sales shot up almost 50% from March 2020 to April 2020 in key legal markets across the US, and sales have remained consistently high throughout COVID-related restrictions. Still, there was little progression toward legalization on the state level in 2020.
Despite the inaction by state representatives, pro-cannabis Wisconsin residents have made their voices heard in local elections. In 2019, six marijuana-related measures were presented across three Wisconsin counties, where voters weighed in on subjects to better inform actionable legislation in the future. Five of the six measures passed, with the results displaying a clear want for cannabis law reform.
Even more telling of where Wisconsin’s pot priorities lie, Madison – the state’s capital city – passed a new ordinance legalizing the possession and use of marijuana. According to the measure, up to one ounce can be smoked in private residences, as well as public places like sidewalks. However, the substance cannot be used on state-owned property.
While Gov. Tony Evers hopes to expand that type of cannabis liberation to the rest of the state, it’s not 100% clear if he’ll attempt to pass policies through budget proposals again, or if he and Democrat state representatives will explore other routes.
Many state representatives, such as Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D), have expressed hopes that state officials would come together around subjects like medical marijuana, mirroring public support of the issue. However, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) is less enthusiastic about the idea.
“It’s going to take a while,” Vos explained in December 2019. “Everybody thinks, ‘Oh, jeez, this is an easy slam dunk.’ It’s a complicated issue that we want to get right.”
Heading into 2021, Gov. Evers insists that adult-use legalization is still on the table.
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