Wisconsin on the road to legalized marijuana?
March 17, 2021
For the second time, Democratic Governor Tony Evers’s proposed biennial budget includes legalizing marijuana use and sales for recreation in Wisconsin. Evers’s 2019-21 biennial budget contained a similar provision, but the heavily Republican State Legislature struck down that part of the budget. Will it do the same for the 2021-23 budget?
Evers’s proposal limits the sale and possession of marijuana to no more than 2 ounces and 6 plants for Wisconsinites’ personal use. Nonresidents could possess only a quarter ounce. It also proposes that buyers and users must be over 21 years of age, similar to the state rules regarding alcohol use and sales. It would tax cannabis sales at a similar rate to alcohol.
If adopted, Evers expects marijuana sales to bring in about $80 million in tax revenue. He wants to invest those funds into communities around the state via a new Community Reinvestment Fund that would provide $30 million for equity grants through the Departments of Health Services, Administration, and Children and Families. School aid for small, rural school districts would receive $34 million, and the state Economic Development Corporation would gain $5 million for grants.
“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,” Evers said in a statement.
Despite these possible benefits to Wisconsin’s bottom line, marijuana legalization gets a mixed reception across the state. A 2019 Marquette Law School Poll found that 59 percent of Wisconsin citizens supported legalizing recreational marijuana and 36 percent gave it a thumbs-down. In the same poll, 83 percent thought the state should legalize it for medical use with a prescription while 12 percent disagreed.
Dr. Zorba Paster, a physician and popular Wisconsin Public Radio host, wrote an op-ed piece on March 5 for Madison.com in which he came down on the pro side, especially for pain relief and other medical reasons. “We should approve it, tax it, and regulate it just like we do booze,” Paster said in the article. “We know how to do that—we can do that with pot, too.”
Not all Republican representatives are against legalizing marijuana. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he supports legalizing it for medical use but not recreational. He also wants it to be addressed separately from the state budget, as does Rep. Mark Born, co-chair of the budget writing committee.
Adrienne Pedersen reported for WISN 12 News that some Wisconsin business owners are poised and ready for the day marijuana goes legal. Among them are hemp businesses like Canni Hemp Company in Walker’s Point. In an interview for PaycheckTalk in 2020, CBD Farmacy co-owner Renee Ballweg said that her Monona hemp business would have to reconsider its game plan if marijuana became legal. But she doubted it would completely transform her business.
“One thing we do know is that some individuals will always want CBD over THC,” Ballweg said. “They are not looking for a product that makes them ‘high.’ Because of this, we will most likely always offer CBD in some form.”
Meanwhile, Wisconsin residents still use cannabis, legal or not. Since Illinois legalized recreational marijuana in 2020, the state has garnered $100 million in tax revenue. Michael Mayes of Quantum 9, Inc., a Chicago cannabis consulting firm, told Pedersen that 30 percent of marijuana revenue generated in Illinois came from out-of-state residents.
“The states near us such as Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri have it, and we should, too,” Paster continued in his op ed. “If we do that we just might see fewer opioid deaths if we push our legislators to do the right thing.”