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Wisconsin Governor Announces He Will Make “First Step” Toward Legalizing Cannabis

Governor Tony Evers personally supports full legalization and plans to call for a state referendum once medical cannabis is legal.

Adam Drury

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Wisconsin Governor Announces He Will Make "First Step" Toward Legalizing Cannabis
Tony Evers/ Facebook

Wisconsin’s new Democratic governor, Tony Evers, announced Tuesday his plans to include the initial steps of cannabis legalization in his state budget proposal for 2019. Speaking before Wisconsin Technology Council board members, Gov. Evers responded to a question about his views on cannabis. Evers said he personally favors adult use legalization, echoing Minnesota’s new governor, Tim Walz.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers “Personally Would Sign” a Cannabis Legalization Bill

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers supports cannabis legalization. At the same time, he doesn’t want to rush the process. In response to a question about his views on marijuana, Evers expressed an interest in taking incremental steps toward a full adult-use industry in Wisconsin.

Evers said his first steps would be to work toward medical cannabis legalization. That’s something that Wisconsin can accomplish legislatively, and Gov. Evers could kickstart that process by including medical legalization in his two-year budget proposal. Taking a longer view, Evers said his administration would push for a statewide voter referendum on full legalization. Wispolitics.com reports Evers told Technology Council board members that he “personally would sign that bill,” but just wants “to make sure we do it correctly.”

“Correctly,” of course, has meant different things to different legislatures and offices of the governor around the country. For Gov. Evers, correctly appears to mean, with an emphasis on small businesses and social justice.

Gov. Evers Wants to Avoid Corporate Takeover of Cannabis in Wisconsin

A followup question from Milwaukee lawyer Alexander Pendleton prompted the governor to reveal more of his views on the “right way” to legalize cannabis. Pendleton posed the question of legalization from criminal justice and budgetary perspectives. And in response, Evers agreed that “marijuana connects all the dots.”

Evers went on to share his observations on other adult-use states. He pointed to Washington, where “hundreds of mom and pop” cannabis shops have been replaced by large cannabis companies. He pointed to Colorado, where “very few people are actually making money” in the industry because of the state’s tax structure. Evers said he wanted to avoid taking Wisconsin’s cannabis industry down the same path. “I think the last thing the people of Wisconsin want as it relates to marijuana is it eventually devolves into Pfizer running things.”

Evers’ emphasis on the importance of small businesses in the cannabis industry strikes a different chord than many of the legalization discussions around the country. It signals Evers wants to shift priorities from corporation-friendly tax rates to cannabis policy that works for the people of Wisconsin. “I want it to be set up in a way that people in the state of Wisconsin feel comfortable that they can make some money by doing this work without having to essentially go broke,” Evers said.

Gov. Evers Takes First Step on Long Road

But all of that is something Evers plans on tackling farther down the road. For now, the immediate objective is to legalized medical cannabis. And that will likely mean inclusion in Evers’ budget plan. There are however, different views on how committed the governor actually is to a budget proposal for legal medical cannabis. The governor’s budget proposal initiates debate in the legislature, where medical legalization is likely to face opposition. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, has a record of opposing medical cannabis.

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