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Marijuana with judge's gavel

RACINE — The Racine City Council has approved adding an advisory referendum on the ballot this November to gauge public support for the legalization of marijuana.

Third District Alderman John Tate II, who put forward the referendum, sees legalization as a means to reduce high levels of incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders and to reduce pharmaceutical companies’ “stranglehold” on pain relief therapy.

Several members of the public echoed those sentiments during the public comments segment of Monday’s City Council meeting.

Karen Simpson of Racine told the story of her son, who she said is currently serving time for a drug charge. Simpson said her son has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder, or ADHD and Bipolar Disorder. Simpson said her son smoked cannabis to reduce the symptoms of those disorders.

Others spoke in opposition, citing cannabis and other drugs’ potential negative effects on productivity, mental health and in the workforce.

Legalization and decriminalization

The initial language of the referendum proposed by Tate II would have asked voters: “Do you support cannabis being legalized for adult and medicinal use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used to fund public education, health care and infrastructure in Wisconsin?”

The Public Works Committee split the proposed referendum language into three questions. Now, the referendum language will ask if voters support:

  • Cannabis legalization for medicinal use.
  • Cannabis legalization for recreational use, taxed and regulated like alcohol.
  • Proceeds from cannabis taxes being used to fund public education, health care and infrastructure.

The council approved adding the referendum to the fall ballot on an 10-3 vote. Aldermen Jeff Coe, Terry McCarthy and Henry Perez voted no, Meekma abstained and Sandy Weidner was absent.

During the council’s discussion, 14th District Alderman Jason Meekma recommended adding another question asking about statewide decriminalization, which he pointed out is different than legalization.

Racine created a local ordinance in 1990 making 25 grams or fewer of marijuana a forfeiture subject to a citation. But a Journal Times investigation last year found the Racine Police Department was twice as likely to request pressing state criminal charges than to issue a citation as per the local ordinance.

During the public hearing, Alfonso Gardner said the city should do something to push law enforcement to charge cannabis possession as a citation.

“This city passed a legal ordinance, and it has not been followed,” said Gardner. “What has happened? They have destroyed black and brown families for 28 years. They’ve made them criminals.”

Tate said he wanted to send a communication to the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office regarding the use of citations for cannabis possession.

The council approved adding the referendum to the fall ballot on an 10-3 vote.

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Christina Lieffring covers the Burlington area and the Village of Caledonia. Before moving to Racine, she lived in Nebraska, Beijing, Chicago and grew up in Kansas City.

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