Wisconsin split on decriminalizing marijuana

The conversation remains open on a closed issue
Wisconsin split on decriminalizing marijuana

He calls marijuana a gateway drug to harder substances, saying “it’s a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana.” And his fellow Republicans who control the state Legislature maintain there is not enough support among their ranks for changing the law.

But that doesn’t mean the issue is not up for public debate in the Badger state. Rep. Melissa Sargent proposed bills in the state assembly during the last two sessions that would legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use.

The Madison Democrat says she has never smoked pot, but believes decriminalizing it would reduce the burden on corrections by reducing arrests for possession of small amounts of the drug and increase tax revenue for the state. Sargent told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the war on drugs in this country has created “a lot of fear and hysteria.”

Sargent’s bill includes a twenty-five-percent excise tax, which would generate an estimated $177 million over two years, according to a nonpartisan analysis. That has been a winning argument in other states where it is now legal to possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

In Colorado, proponents successfully wooed voters with the promise of millions of dollars for schools that would otherwise stay on the black market if the drug remained illegal. The pro-pot campaign even had a jingle: “Jobs for our people. Money for schools. Who could ask for more?” The state’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund received $17 million from the state’s marijuana sales tax between April 2014 and April 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The rest of the nation is watching to see what pros and cons emerge as other states adapt to the change in the drug’s legal status, a list that also includes Alaska, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

Opponents will no doubt point to cases of kids becoming sick after consuming their parents’ (and grandparents’) edibles laced with marijuana and a study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine that found a significant increase in drivers on marijuana involved in fatal vehicle crashes since 2009. There are also the legal tangles Colorado is having with neighboring states, which are claiming legalized marijuana is resulting in an economic burden for them.

In Wisconsin, public opinion is split, but has shifted slightly in favor of legalization. Last fall, the Marquette Law School Poll found forty-six percent of Wisconsin voters support legalization, while fifty-one percent oppose it. Six months prior, forty-two percent of the state’s voters supported legalization and fifty-two percent opposed the idea.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and Illinois is close to joining the list. And last year, Walker signed a bill legalizing a derivative of marijuana for limited medical use and now Wisconsin Native American tribes are examining the law closely to determine if it has opened the door for them to grow and sell marijuana on their lands.

So even though state politicians say it’s a closed issue, it seems anything but.