RACINE COUNTY — About half of Wisconsin’s voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on some form of marijuana legislation on Nov. 6.
At least 20 different county boards across the state considered advisory referendums regarding the legalization of marijuana. Sixteen of those counties approved at least one referendum, including Racine, where three different questions will be posed.
None of the referendums will force any legislative changes, but they will allow voters to voice their collective opinion regarding the legalization of pot.
Some counties, including Kenosha and Waukesha, are only asking if marijuana should be legalized for medicinal use. Others, like Dane and La Crosse counties, are only asking about legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Racine and Eau Claire are the only counties asking about both.
City of Racine residents will vote on a separate set of marijuana referendum questions: Recreational, medicinal, statewide decriminalization and taxation.
What are we voting on?
Every Racine County voter will be asked the following three questions on Nov. 6:
- Should marijuana be legalized for medicinal use?
- Should marijuana be legalized and regulated for adults 21 years of age or older?
- Should marijuana sales be taxed for state and local revenue?
City of Racine residents will also have a similar advisory referendum on their ballots, containing four additional questions.
County Board Supervisor Nick Demske, who proposed having the referendums alongside Supervisor Fabi Maldonado this summer, said it was important to have multiple questions so that people who might approve of medicinal marijuana but not recreational can have their voices heard clearly. Both Demske and Maldonado represent districts in the City of Racine.
“Part of the reason I’m very excited that we got (the referendum approved) in the full county is because I really genuinely don’t feel like I know what the answer is going to be,” Demske said.
If voters resoundingly approve any of the referendums, Demske said, the County Board can place more emphasis on those measures when it comes to lobbying for changes at the state or national levels. But if the referendums are resoundingly shot down, “then we continue with business as usual,” Demske said.
One vocal, local opponent of the referendums has been Deacon Eric Sewell of St. Sebastian Catholic Parish in Sturtevant.
For one, Sewell fears that legalizing pot will lead to more inebriated drivers. In August 2017 the Denver Post reported that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show.
“Right now, alcohol kills 88,000 people a year (in the U.S.),” Sewell said, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic. “Is that something we want to duplicate?”
A report from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, published in August, found that only 6 percent of those given toxicology screens after an arrest had marijuana in their systems, while 91 percent had alcohol. However, that same study acknowledged that marijuana is tougher to test for, especially compared to alcohol.
“Alcohol is faster, easier and cheaper to screen for compared to other drugs thanks to preliminary roadside breath screenings. Once alcohol is detected, law enforcement generally has enough evidence to reliably achieve a conviction,” according to the report. “Therefore, agencies do not consistently spend the additional money and time requesting toxicology blood testing for substances beyond alcohol.”
Sewell, who said he has worked in multiple hospitals and cancer care centers, acknowledged that THC has some pain-relieving benefits. Still, he believes that approving medical marijuana will only lead to its full legalization.
“Referendums are intended to build momentum,” Sewell said. “People don’t understand the harm that marijuana can do … they’re uninformed.”
Although Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers supports the legalization of medicinal marijuana, he has said that recreational marijuana should only be approved if a statewide referendum called for it.
Gov. Scott Walker is a steadfast opponent of marijuana legalization. In May, he said the following in a TV interview: “When I talk to law enforcement … I hear it all the time: ‘Do not legalize marijuana. It is a gateway drug.’ It opens the door towards other problems they’ve seen escalating across the state of Wisconsin.”
Josh Kaul, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, reportedly supports the full legalization of marijuana. His opponent, incumbent Republican Brad Schimel, has been a vocal opponent of legal weed.
“We cannot allow Wisconsinites, particularly our young people, to be harmed by potentially dangerous drugs, whether they are being peddled on the streets or sold by the person standing behind the counter of a convenience store,” Schimel said after the state won a multi-million-dollar case against a now-closed Milwaukee store that sold synthetic marijuana in August.
Democratic U.S. Congress candidate Randy Bryce said, “We have to legalize marijuana,” in a tweet in March. Bryce’s opponent, Republican Bryan Steil, has been silent on the issue.
Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Leah Vukmir, who is a nurse and state senator from Brookfield, told a Madison media outlet in August that she believes every proposal to allow medicinal marijuana is a ruse to open it up for recreational legalization.
“(Marijuana) has very little medical use and indications for any type of use,” she said.
Incumbent Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is up for her first re-election, has advocated for medicinal marijuana, but is opposed to legalizing the drug for recreational use.