Three Wisconsin Democrats introduced a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state, and they decided to announce the new legislation outside of an Illinois marijuana dispensary.
Reps. David Bowen and Mark Spreitzer and Sen. Melissa Agard journeyed across the border to hold the press conference outside a cannabis shop in South Beloit, Illinois, where they were joined by the city council’s president Clinton Anderson (D).
“All you have to do is look right that way and you’ll see the state of Wisconsin,” Agard said, in front of the Sunnsyide cannabis dispensary, before going on to describe her state as “an island of prohibition.”
To highlight the folly of prohibition while its neighbors have moved to relax their cannabis laws, Agard gestured to a number of the vehicles parked outside of Sunnyside with Wisconsin plates, and noted that some of the employees working there were actually Wisconsin residents.
Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that hasn’t legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, nor has it decriminalized simple possession.
The filed legislation would change this by legalizing, taxing and regulating sales of marijuana in Wisconsin to adults 21 and older, in much the same way as Illinois and neighboring Michigan. Legal possession of cannabis would be limited to two ounces for residents, while visitors to the state would only be permitted to carry up to one-quarter ounce. Wisconsin residents would also be allowed to grow up to six plants at home for personal use.
The proposal contains provisions specifically for patients wishing to use marijuana for medical purposes. Upon a physician’s recommendation, such patients could apply for a tax exemption on their cannabis purchases.
In her speech to the gathered press pack, Agard highlighted the bill’s provisions to facilitate expungement of prior cannabis convictions, as well as allowing individuals to petition the courts for resentencing, before stressing the measure’s social equity credentials.
“There are dollars available for people of color and women to be able to access capital to enter the industry, and there is a social justice fund, as well,” she added.
“This is a positive, forward thinking plan that will bring money into the state of Wisconsin,” Agard continued, as she noted that a legal cannabis industry in Wisconsin is projected to generate around $165 million in annual tax revenue. “It’s time to support this industry and regulate it in an aggressive, pragmatic manner.”
The senator then said 60 percent of these revenues would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the enforcement of marijuana prohibition in Wisconsin.
Another of the bill’s cosponsors then spoke in more detail of the stark racial disparities in drug law enforcement in Wisconsin. Rep. Bowen said Black Americans in Wisconsin are nearly six times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people, despite comparable usage rates, while the national average is around four-to-one.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is likely to be on board with the proposal having tried, and failed, to legalize recreational cannabis through his annual state budget proposal earlier this year. Evers cites the overwhelming public support for the measure in Wisconsin as reason enough to legalize cannabis in the state, as evidenced not only by polling on the issue but also the outcomes of non-binding advisory questions on marijuana legalization in three jurisdictions last year, and twelve jurisdictions at the 2018 midterms.