Gov. Evers proposes legalizing recreational marijuana in Wisconsin
Currently, both recreational and medicinal marijuana are illegal in Wisconsin.
MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers wants the state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
On Sunday morning, the governor’s office announced he would include the initiative in his upcoming 2021-23 biennial budget. In a statement, he compared the coming proposal to the regulations in neighboring Illinois and Michigan.
“Frankly, red and blue states across the country have moved forward with legalization and there is no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s supported by a majority of Wisconsinites,” Evers said.
The Evers Administration pointed to a study by Marquette University that found six in ten Wisconsinites would back legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, while a full 83 percent support medicinal marijuana.
UW-Madison political expert Mike Wagner said the shift in public opinion could put pressure on legislators.
“It’s often the case that public opinion is ahead of what legislators will do,” Wagner explained, adding, “The longer that persists, the clearer the signal it sends to lawmakers that this is something people would like to see happen.”
Recreational marijuana is currently legal in 15 states and in D.C., while 16 states have decriminalized recreational use at various levels.
Late last year, the Madison Common Council voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city. The changes included allowing people 18 and older to use or possess up to 28 grams of cannabis on public and private property, as long as they have the permission of the property owner, landlord, or tenant.
WHO COULD BUY IT?
Under the governor’s plan, certain caps would remain on the possession or sale of marijuana.
- Individuals would need to be 21 years old to buy marijuana;
- All sales to minors would be prohibited;
- Wisconsin residents would be allowed to posses up to two ounces of marijuana and up to six plants for personal use;
- People who do not live in Wisconsin would not be allowed to possess more than a quarter ounce of it.
The proposal would also require any marijuana processor or microbusiness that operates as a processor to produce a usable product using marijuana grown outside of Wisconsin.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
The Evers Administration’s plan would give the responsibility for taxing and regulating the marijuana industry to the Dept. of Revenue and the Dept. of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. His office compared it to how alcohol is regulated today.
The Evers Administration is arguing that legalizing marijuana will increase revenue, create jobs, and ease the burden on the criminal justice system.
The governor’s office estimated legalization would raise more than $165 million per year in revenue, starting in the second year of the budget. Evers explained he would like to see nearly half of that number ($80 million) set aside for a new community reinvestment fund. He would also like to see approximately $34 million go toward supporting small, rural school districts.
“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin—just like we do already with alcohol—ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” said Gov. Evers added.
Lawmakers who support the measure said it is a win-win for Wisconsin.
“We know that Wisconsinites are spending money in surrounding states, and that money should be spent here,” said State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), adding, “We will be able to invest in our communities, invest our prosperity.”
Currently, both recreational and medicinal marijuana are illegal in Wisconsin, however CBD oil is allowed.
Evers will introduce his formal budget on Feb. 16.
A similar effort by Evers was proposed in his previous 2019-21 budget focused on legalizing medical marijuana, but failed to make it through the legislature.
Lawmakers like Agard hope legislators on both sides of the aisle can find common ground.
“It is my hope that my Republican colleagues as well as my democratic colleagues see this as the nonpartisan issue that it is,” Agard said.
In recent years, some Republican lawmakers have signaled a willingness to loosen some restrictions in the state. In late 2019, two Republican legislators introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, though it did not pass the legislature.
“I think this is an example for us to watch as citizens of Wisconsin to see how well, or what the possibility is, for the governor and the Republican-led majorities in the Assembly and Senate to work together,” political expert Wagner said.
NBC15 contacted Republican leadership Sunday, reaching out to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu for comment, but did not hear back.
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