By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In recent years, states across the country have made cannabis legal. While some states restrict it for medicinal use only, others have allowed for dispensaries and storefronts, but in Wisconsin cannabis remains illegal.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative addressed the topic of cannabis legalization during its virtual May salon discussion on Wednesday, May 19. Attendees heard from Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Wisconsin) on why she introduced a bill in favor of cannabis legalization and how it could benefit Wisconsin.
“WJI supports and has supported Senator Agard’s efforts to make cannabis legalized and end the criminalization of cannabis for thousands of Wisconsin residents and people every year getting convicted every year for possession of cannabis,” Craig Johnson, the president of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, said.
He noted that the majority of Wisconsinites support the legalization of cannabis, yet elected officials in favor of it continue to face an uphill battle.
“I know that the most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin is that it is illegal,” Agard said. “The prohibition of cannabis in Wisconsin is frankly one of the largest wrongs that we have in our state. I know that by legalizing cannabis in Wisconsin, we will be a safer, more prosperous and more forward-thinking community.”
Agard, who previously served in the Wisconsin State Assembly, said she did not initially campaign for cannabis reform; however, after she was elected, people reached out to her on the necessity of cannabis reform.
Agard listened to the people, and drafted legislation in favor of cannabis legalization. The legislation addressed both the concerns that people had on cannabis legalization and the wrongs of prohibition.
She introduced the bill over eight years ago. Over the years, the bill has gained more support and earlier this year, Gov. Tony Evers announced that he would include the legalization of marijuana in his 2021-23 biennial budget.
According to Agard, recent polls from Pew Research Center show that less than 10% of people in the nation are prohibitionists or against cannabis legalization. She added that Wisconsin is losing out on tax dollars given that the surrounding states are legalizing cannabis.
People are taking the time to drive to Illinois and pay the Illinois sales tax to access cannabis, she said.
Right now, Wisconsin’s cannabis business takes place on the black market. It is a million dollar if not billion-dollar industry, Agard said.
Agard’s legislation would: address the racial disparities and social justice aspects that have long been associated with cannabis in Wisconsin; support farmers and the state’s agricultural heritage; provide medicinal options; and offer support to entrepreneurs, especially women and people of color.
She noted that behind closed doors, she’s received bi-partisan support, but Republican leaders say it is not a priority.
“At the end of the day, it is taxing and regulating cannabis the same way we tax and regulate alcohol in Wisconsin for adult responsible usage,” she said, adding that it does have a provision allowing medical providers to prescribe it and another provision allowing individuals to grow it for personal use.
Under Agard’s bill, cannabis distributors would be required to be aware and informed of the different potencies and strains of cannabis and the state would regulate the market to ensure safe products. Furthermore, the bill includes provision for education in schools on the topic of controlled substance usage.
“It is still a problem that we have prohibition, that it is illegal,” Agard said. “Full legalization is the best choice as far as I’m concerned.”