On January 15, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) said that he would support full legalization of marijuana in the state. During his 2018 campaign against Republican incumbent Scott Walker, Evers stood in contrast to Walker by supporting medical legalization.  

Wispolitics reports that when asked at an event sponsored by the Wisconsin Technology Council, Evers said that he “would sign” a legalization bill, so long as it was drafted “correctly.” Evers is not alone in his support for medical legalization this year. WSAW quotes Attorney General Josh Kaul as saying: “There is a good shot the legislature will legalize medical marijuana in this coming session. If a doctor could prescribe medical marijuana or an opioid, I would rather see the doctor given the crisis we have with opioids right now.”

Evers’s campaign site agrees with Kaul’s assessment that cannabis is working as an alternative to opioids:

For many Wisconsinites, medical marijuana will alleviate chronic pain, which is why organizations like the American Legion support legalization because of the documented health benefits for our veterans.  It’s no secret that Wisconsin, like red and blue states across the country, is battling an opioid and painkiller crisis that is killing thousands of Americans every year. The fact remains that states that have legalized medical marijuana have observed double digit decreases in both opioid abuse and overdose related hospitalizations.

The site also states that Evers would support full legalization if the people of Wisconsin do. As it happens, in recent years, public opinion in the state has significantly shifted in favor of legalization. A recent poll conducted by Marquette University law school shows that 59% of Wisconsinites support legalization, while 35 percent oppose. On the question of whether marijuana should be fully legalized (and taxed and regulated like alcohol), 58% percent said yes. In 2014, on the other hand, 51% opposed legalization and 41% favored it—a clear sign of how much opinion on the issue has shifted in a short amount of time.

This shift was reflected in votes in the 2018 election. In addition to electing the gubernatorial candidate who favored medical legalization, voters in 16 counties approved nonbinding ballot questions on legalization. In the populous counties of Milwaukee, Dane (which has Madison as its county seat), Eau Claire, La Crosse, Racine, and Rock, voters approved full legalization, while in 11 others and one city, voters expressed their approval of medical legalization. The majorities were solid; significantly over 51% in all cases and as high as 80% in one case.

Opponents in the Statehouse

Although voters in 2018 made clear their endorsement of legalization, they did not turn the statehouse blue. The Assembly and Senate remain in Republican hands. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has expressed willingness to consider legalization, although medical legalization could be a “slippery slope” toward full legalization. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said that he doubts a legalization bill will pass the Senate and that he does not support legalization. Leafly reports Fitzgerald as saying: “I still don’t believe the support’s there within the Senate caucus to move in that direction.” Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukana) has also made comments to the effect that medical legalization could lead to full legalization, which many Republican Assembly members continue to oppose. In 2009, for example, Republicans voted to stop a legalization bill in an Assembly committee, and in subsequent years halted other measures as well, including one to lessen possession penalties.

Although the new governor of Wisconsin and a majority of the state’s voters now support legalization, the legislature may yet succeed in blocking a legalization bill in 2019.

What do you think? Will legislators who have opposed legalization soften their stance in 2019? Leave a comment below.

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