More than half a dozen cities and counties in Wisconsin have confirmed they will feature a marijuana legalization question in November’s ballot.
Voters in Dane, Eau Claire and Milwaukee counties alongside the cities of Appleton, Racine, and Kenosha will all be asked whether they are in favor of taxing and regulating marijuana sales and consumption in a similar way as with alcohol.
The results of the ballot vote will not be binding on state lawmakers but it could nonetheless send a strong signal that residents are ready for reform of Wisconsin’s cannabis laws, if recent polling on the issue is a reliable indicator of voter sentiment. A survey conducted by Marquette Law School in March this year revealed 61 percent of respondents support cannabis legalization, including a majority of those who identify as Republican. Responding to the poll’s findings, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R) said the reform was “likely” to happen sooner or later.
Unlike many states that have legalized marijuana through the ballot process, Wisconsin state law does not allow for legislative changes through citizen-led initiatives. This has meant Wisconsinites have been frequently canvassed for their opinions on marijuana reform through advisory referendums. The 2018 elections saw an overwhelming majority of voters, comprising nearly half of the state’s residents, come out in favor of cannabis legalization.
The GOP-controlled legislature, however, has only approved incremental reforms like decriminalization and medical cannabis legalization. Still, marijuana possession remains punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail, while subsequent offenses can result in felony charges.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) has tried to force through marijuana legalization via his 2020 state budget proposal to the legislature, but the language was later removed from the final bill. Last year, a trio of Democrats filed a legalization bill but it has failed to advance beyond committee.
Despite the gridlock concerning comprehensive cannabis reform, some cities and counties in Wisconsin aren’t convinced that advisory referendums are the way to go. City officials in Green Bay rejected the inclusion of a marijuana legalization ballot question on the basis that it is not a good use of public funds.
“I think there’s ways that you can vocalize to your legislators for free via email and phone calls,” said Alderperson Jennifer Grant. “There’s ways to get loud without costing money.”
La Crosse County Supervisor Dan Ferries agrees, arguing that ““It’s silly to spend $5,000 on a referendum that we already know the answer to.”
Several other states look set to put the question of marijuana legalization to voters this November through binding ballot initiatives. South Dakota, Maryland and Missouri will have a proposal to legalize cannabis on the ballot, while Arkansas and North Dakota are the latest to confirm such a question will feature.