By Karen Stokes
On Wednesday, May 10, Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard along with special guest Representative Robyn Vining hosted a town hall as part of Senator Agard’s “Grass Routes” Tour discussing the current landscape of cannabis legalization in Wisconsin.
Agard, a Democrat of Madison, has long made legalization her key issue. She first introduced a bill to legalize marijuana a decade ago, while still in the state Assembly.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement across the United States to legalize marijuana. Wisconsin is no exception.
A 2022 Marquette Law School study found that 69% of Wisconsin registered voters and the majority of voters in every political party supported legalizing recreational weed.
Supporters included 51% of Wisconsin Republicans, 53% of Wisconsinites over the age of 60, and every racial, regional, income, and educational demographic in the survey.
“It’s not a matter of if this happens, it’s a matter of when it’s gonna happen,” Senator Agard said.
Features of Agard’s legalization proposal includes to fully legalize cannabis in Wisconsin for adults over the age of 21 to possess two ounces of recreational marijuana, the proposal allows Wisconsin adults to have six marijuana plants for personal use and people diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for a debilitating medical condition can qualify to possess and use marijuana.
“There has been harm done to communities throughout Wisconsin because of COVID. We need equity to be upfront and foremost when talking about cannabis reform. Sixty percent of all excise tax generated will be used to support the Community Reinvestment Fund providing targeted support to individuals and businesses in rural communities, people of color and women owned businesses,” Agard said.
Wisconsin is an “island of prohibition,” in that Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota have greater legalization for cannabis. Wisconsin residents seeking to use cannabis medically or non-medically must drive to these states and purchase it there, resulting in a loss of economy and autonomy.
“We are losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue, and billions of dollars of economic stimulus, because we are not engaging in the conversation,” Agard said.
There is a huge racial disparity when it comes to prosecution and arrests across America related to marijuana. Though both white and Black individuals use marijuana at approximately the same rate, those who are Black are four times more likely to be arrested for the drug, according to the ACLU.
The proposal states that individuals who were previously convicted of cannabis related crimes and those currently serving sentences will have an opportunity to repeal or reduce their sentence for non-violent minor offenses.
Despite these benefits, there are still some concerns about legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin. A woman at the event commented that marijuana is bad for the brain development of children and deteriorates their drive whether it’s smoking, gummies or secondhand smoke.
“I don’t want kids to have it, I have four sons and the lack of policy “prohibition” actually allows more access to our kids in our communities than with having regulation,” Agard said.
There are over 30 states and multiple territories that have legalized medical usage and over 20 states, multiple territories and Washington D.C. have legalized non-medical usage for responsible adults.
Agard reminded everyone that writing letters, sending emails and calling the offices of representatives are effective ways to communicate important matters, and that following up after reaching out ensures that the message is heard.