On the Legalization of Cannabis

“Adults should be free to use marijuana without fear of prosecution. We need to stop using our criminal justice resources to prosecute and incarcerate people for cannabis use. We can earn revenue, increase Wisconsin’s agricultural economy, and help stop the unequal enforcement that drives racial disparities in our criminal justice system. It’s time to legalize cannabis for recreational and medicinal use, and grow Wisconsin’s economy.”

It’s time to legalize cannabis for both personal and medicinal use. For far too long, we have waged a failed war on drugs, using the criminal justice system to address the public health problem of substance use disorder. While many drugs are deadly and should not be available, cannabis is not among them. Adults should be free to use cannabis – not ticketed or imprisoned. We cannot afford to use our scarce public safety resources on enforcing laws that are unjust and unnecessary. A recent poll conducted by Marquette University confirmed that 59% of Wisconsinites think cannabis should be “fully legalized and regulated like alcohol.” Legalizing and regulating cannabis like alcohol offers economic, medical, environmental, and social and criminal justice benefits. 

Cannabis reform is about personal freedom and public priorities. Adults should be free to use cannabis — the state shouldn’t interfere with personal freedom unless there is serious harm involved. While some strains of cannabis can be dangerous, as can additives or impurities, that is all the more reason to regulate cannabis – to ensure that people know what they are buying and to prevent tainted drugs from harming people. Existing laws, such as the smoking ban, advertising regulations, and driving while under the influence, should be applied to cannabis as well.

Medical cannabis should be available to people with debilitating medical condition or treatment. I support access to medical cannabis as outlined in AB 482. With consent from a doctor, persons with chronic or serious illnesses should be able to obtain safe access to cannabis, exempt from taxation imposed on adult users, and should be able to exceed the minimal quantities that will be allowed for adult users. States with medical cannabis have lower opioid addiction rates, because patients needing palliative care can get pain relief from cannabis without the danger of addiction from an opioid prescription. States that have legalized cannabis have fewer prescribed opioids per year, leading to fewer addictions and overdoses.

Criminalizing cannabis has contributed to Wisconsin’s shameful racial disparities. Wisconsin incarcerates a higher percentage of its African American population than any other state in the nation. When enforcement resources are directed towards communities of color, people of color are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at higher rates than whites, even though there is overwhelming evidence that rates of drug use are the same for black and white people. While legalizing cannabis is far from enough to address Wisconsin’s unequal system of criminal justice, it is one important and easy step towards repairing it.

Issue pardons for all convictions for cannabis use/possession, since having a conviction can haunt people for a lifetime, making it harder to obtain housing, employment, and educational opportunities. Expunging misdemeanors will allow individuals the ability to apply for work or run dispensaries.

Cannabis tax revenue can fund essential public needs. States that have legalized cannabis have earned hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue without raising taxes. Wisconsin will benefit from a revenue stream to help address the opioid crisis that is ravaging our state — funding needed behavioral health services in areas of the state that currently have high need but few providers. To address the opioid crisis, we need funding for education, training, mental healthcare provision, prevention, intervention/diversion/treatment programs, harm reduction. In addition, states such as Colorado and Washington have raised hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to pay for schools and infrastructure improvements; Wisconsin could earn revenue from marijuana taxation for these public needs as well.

Effective licensing distribution can bring resources to historically under-resourced communities. Licenses for cannabis should be distributed in an equitable manner. Licenses will be based on lottery and issued only to bona fide residents who have lived in the state for at least two years. Wisconsin-based small businesses and entrepreneurs from traditionally underrepresented groups and under-resourced communities will be prioritized.

Cannabis and hemp crops will strengthen Wisconsin’s farming industry. Wisconsin farmers will benefit from the opportunity to grow cannabis and industrial hemp, which are some of the most versatile cash crops in America. Cannabis and hemp farms provide jobs in farming, processing, manufacturing, training, and sales – particularly in rural communities.