Wisconsin Lawmakers, Advocates Trying to Legalize Marijuana—Again

The state representative plans to propose recreational, expanding on the governor’s intention to widen access.
Wisconsin Lawmakers, Advocates Trying to Legalize Marijuana—Again
Vitaly Fedotov/ Shutterstock

Cannabis legalization is getting a concentrated push in the state of Wisconsin, where on Thursday Rep. Melissa Sargent of Madison announced that she would propose legislation to legalize recreational marijuana.

“The palate for legalization of cannabis in the state of Wisconsin is far more popular than probably the ratings for most politicians in this building,” said Sargent, delivering a fabulous piece of shade that should be printed onto t-shirts. Sargent has proposed a similar bill four out of her six years in office.

Legalization activism has a lot of history in the state, but cannabis advocates gained a formidable ally last year when voters elected Governor Tony Evers, a cancer survivor who ran on the campaign platform that adult use cannabis was essential. Evers included funds for greater allowance of medical marijuana use and a cannabis offense expungement program in his 2019 state budget, which he announced in February.

Upon hearing of Evers’ proposal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos commented that the governor’s plan “appears to go too far.”

A poll released earlier this month by Marquette University Law School found that 59 percent of Wisconsin residents support legalization. Such has been the support for cannabis regulation in Wisconsin that individual cities have even proposed their own plans, including Madison (where a legalization ordinance was passed) and Stevens Point.

“I believe and I know the people of Wisconsin overwhelmingly believe that people shouldn’t be treated like criminals for accessing medicine that can change or maybe even save their lives,” said Evers when announcing his budget plan.

“It is far overdue that we listen to the voices of our constituents,” Sargent said on Thursday. “The people of Wisconsin have said loud and clear that the prohibition of marijuana is not working.”

Currently, Wisconsin does have a medical marijuana system (via AB 726, which was passed in 2014) but patients are limited to THC-free CBD oil, available with just a physician’s written recommendation. Governor Evers’ budget proposal would lift restrictions on the purchase of CBD oil, legalize small amounts of marijuana for medical use, and decriminalize the possession of up to 25 grams for personal use.

As state cannabis advocates have noted, the issue does not just come down to medical access and bolstering the budget woe-ridden state with fresh sources of tax revenue. Wisconsin is also home to a deeply flawed criminal justice system.

A report published in January by The Center on Wisconsin Strategy found that Wisconsin had one of the country’s worst rates of racial disparity, including soaring incarceration rates in the black community. A study published by Kids Forward last year found that black youth are arrested at twice the rate of white youth for drug offenses. Another 2018 survey found black kids were three times more likely to be arrested as whites, adding that Native American youth are also two times as likely to be arrested as their white peers. In fact, Wisconsin has the highest rate of Native American incarceration in the country and in 2013, also had the highest incarceration rates of black men.

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