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Racine County Board

County Board approves marijuana referendum by 1 vote

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RACINE COUNTY — Racine will become one of about a dozen counties in the state to have an advisory referendum regarding the legalization of marijuana use. On Tuesday night, the County Board authorized it by an 11-10 vote with every supervisor present.

The three questions that will appear on every ballot in Racine County on Nov. 6 are as follows:

1. Should marijuana be legalized for medicinal use?

2. Should marijuana be legalized and regulated for adults 21 years of age or older?

3. Should marijuana sales be taxed for state and local revenue?

The results of voters’ responses to the three questions will not have a direct effect on legislation. It would be used as a litmus test of public opinion.

Before the referendum was approved Tuesday, an amendment proposed by Supervisor Monte Osterman of Racine was passed by a 14-7 vote. The amendment removed language about how the tax revenue could be used from question No. 3 and removed mention of regulating marijuana “similar to alcohol” from question No. 2.

Supervisor John Wisch of Caledonia supported the amendment, saying it was “more to the point.”

The vote

The County Board passed the referendum on the very last day possible to get it on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Supervisors Osterman, Wisch, Nick Demske, Fabi Maldonado, Melissa Kaprelian-Becker, Q.A. Shakoor II, Eric Hillery, Janet Bernberg, Don Trottier, Thomas Roanhouse and Tom Hincz voted in favor of it. David Cooke, Russell Clark, Brett Nielsen, Robert Miller, Tom Kramer, Katherine Buske, Scott Maier, Robert Grove, Thomas Pringle and Mike Dawson opposed it.

The referendum was first proposed on July 31 by supervisors Demske and Maldonado, both of Racine.

This comes weeks after the Racine City Council adopted a similar referendum for the same ballot. The state Election Commission recommends removing such similar questions, although County Clerk Wendy Christensen said she was unsure if this would be possible because the election is less than 71 days away.


County Board President Russell Clark of Racine allowed 95 minutes of public comments during the meeting, 40 more than the typical maximum — speakers were limited to 3 minutes each.

The majority of the commenters, of which there were about 30, supported having a referendum, although four did not.

One of those who was opposed to the referendum was Eric Sewell, a Catholic deacon at St. Sebastian Parish in Sturtevant. Citing statistics which have also been published in The Denver Post, Sewell said that “decriminalization has not worked in Colorado … the majority of DUIs in Colorado are now with marijuana.”

According to an article published in March 2018 in The Denver Post, “the number of marijuana-related automobile fatalities in Colorado … hit 77 in 2016, the latest in a series of sharp increases in recent years. Fifty-one of those drivers had levels of that substance, called Delta 9 THC, above the threshold for cannabis impairment under Colorado law.”

“We went from zero to 100, and we’ve been chasing it ever since,” a Colorado police chief told The Denver Post in summer 2017. “Nobody understands it and people are dying. That’s a huge public safety problem.”

Among those who supported the referendum was Milwaukee resident Eric Marsch, a representative from the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He said: “When we have it (marijuana legalization) on the ballot, we can show representatives exactly how many people in their districts so they can’t ignore their constituents anymore.”

Supervisor Bob Miller of Mount Pleasant opposed the referendum because “The County Board cannot change state or federal legalizations … we have no authority on this issue,” he said. “This is not our issue on which to act … let’s not do the work of Madison or of Washington.”

Janet Bernberg, a supervisor from Wind Point, disagreed with Miller: “Our legislators aren’t listening. We need to bring it to their attention.”

John Heckenlively, a member of the Racine Unified School Board, spoke in favor of allowing the referendum and the legalization of marijuana.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the State of Wisconsin had an additional $500 million in revenue to support health, education and infrastructure in this state?” Heckenlively asked. “It’s a simple matter of democracy … it’s about asking our constituents what they think. That’s all this is.”


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