The time has come for the GOP-controlled state Legislature to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana.
A 2019 Marquette University Law School poll found that 83% of Wisconsin residents favored legalizing medical marijuana. A 2022 Marquette poll shows that 61% of Wisconsin residents favor legalization of recreational marijuana with majorities from both political party respondents polled favoring legalization.
Governor Evers proposed both measures in his most recent state budget proposal only to have them axed by a single vote in the GOP controlled Joint Finance Committee on May 2nd.
Wisconsin is surrounded by states seeing the benefits of legalized marijuana. Illinois legalized both and saw increased tax revenues and decreased crime rates. Cannabis dispensaries close to our border have drained millions from Wisconsin pocketbooks as state residents flock to Mundelein and South Beloit to buy marijuana products. Michigan also legalized, and one does not have to drive far into the UP to find a dispensary. Michigan tax revenues have also jumped from regulated sales. Minnesota just passed its legalization bill which awaits Governor Walz’ already promised signature. One can expect cannabis dispensaries along the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River will soon follow.
Meanwhile, our GOP controlled legislature continues to wage the already lost War on Drugs and continues the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug to harmful drugs like heroin, meth, and cocaine. They also appear willing to forego the tax revenues other states gladly receive from our citizens daily. Projections of potential tax revenue from legalized marijuana sales could raise enough money for Wisconsin to fully fund its obligation to our public-school systems among other needed priorities.
It is not like our Legislature doesn’t know what to pass. The new Minnesota law is a great place to start the copy and paste. It provides that adults, 21 and over, can possess up to two pounds of marijuana. Minnesotans will be able to cultivate up to eight plants on their property as soon as August 1. Over the next year a new Office of Cannabis Management will put together regulations governing the sale of recreational pot which will be taxed at 10% of recreational sales. Edibles containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, are already available at CBD stores there. Twenty percent of the tax revenues collected will go to cities and counties across the state.
The Minnesota plan also contains provisions expunging misdemeanor marijuana convictions and for reviewing more serious cannabis convictions. It also contains measures aimed at correcting problems created during the century of prohibition where communities of color were disproportionally targeted by drug law enforcement actions.
Many have long realized that the marijuana prohibition has done more harm than good. I was Assistant Legal Counsel for the Pennsylvania chapter of NORML, the National Organization of Marijuana Laws, and testified before that state’s legislature in support of legalized medical marijuana and limited recreational use in 1978. My criminal defense legal practice often challenged draconian marijuana laws with expert medical testimony on its safety and efficacy for certain medical conditions.. The effort to legalize is certainly not a new one.
Federal law still classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin and other far more serious drugs creating a complete disconnect in those states which have legalized marijuana. Yes, the Feds can still bust you for cannabis in states where it is legal under state laws. The Federal and state prohibitions date back to the 1920s when Harry Anslinger first convinced Congress that marijuana was the devil incarnate, leading to perversion of our youth from jazz music, free sex, and overall licentiousness. Our legislators still must think these outmoded notions hold true. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Justice has toned down marijuana enforcement activities and the Drug Enforcement Agency is starting to look at reclassifying marijuana to reduce applicable penalties.
I was recently reminded of a story told to me by a grower friend in the 1970s. He wanted to plant a marijuana patch on his parents’ ranch in Texas. When my friend visited his folks to ask permission, his father asked, “it that stuff is as good as they say it is?” My friend replied by offering his dad a joint. After smoking it, his father retired to their front porch and sat in his favorite rocker as the sun set. My friend joined his dad on the porch where they sat in silence watching the sun go down. The father’s first comment was, “plant it.”
It is long past time for Wisconsin to join the rest of the states that have legalized, regulated, and taxed recreational marijuana sales and decriminalized possession and sales.
Waring Fincke is a retired lawyer and former guardian who lives in the Village of Kewaskum.
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