RACINE COUNTY — Residents of Racine County and the City of Racine expressed strong support Tuesday at the polls for marijuana legalization and taxation, for medicinal and recreational use.
Sheriff Christopher Schmaling wanted to remind the public that the referendums were advisory and had no effect on current marijuana laws.
“I can assure you, you are not going to be buying marijuana tomorrow, legally anyways,” Schmaling said Tuesday as he watched election results come in.
Questions about medical marijuana had the largest margins of approval (73,272 – 13,166 in Racine County, 22,984—3,234 in Racine) followed closely by questions about taxation for local and state funding (68,616—16,458 in Racine County, 21,755—4,405 in Racine).
Support for recreational marijuana was not as strong, but still had a sizable margin (50,486—34,433 in Racine County, 17,456—8,863 in Racine).
The city also asked about decriminalization in Wisconsin which was supported, 18,665—7,336.
Reactions, next steps
Alderman John Tate II of the 3rd District said he wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s results.
“People understand that this is an issue that needs to be looked at differently,” he said. “We (now) have concrete data for what people here want to see in the state.”
He also hoped the results will help move some of his initiatives to enforce decriminalization forward.
The City of Racine in 1990 made 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.
Tate proposed an initiative that would instruct the Racine Police Department to defer to the municipal ordinance and reduce the citation’s fine to $1.
The proposal is currently with the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, which initiated the discussion in September but tabled it until more information was available. Tate hopes Tuesday’s results will help incentivize movement on the issue.
“This is the direction our constituents want us to be taking,” said Tate. “We need to be beholden to our constituents.”
Racine County Supervisor Nick Demske said that, if anything, the referendum showed that the issue of marijuana legalization is on people’s minds.
“I know I heard representatives say, ‘I don’t think this is a pressing issue. Most people don’t really care about it one way or another,’” said Demske. “I hope that there’s just a conversation that comes out of this and the county can start talking about, if this is important for our constituents, what does that mean for us?”
Racine County Supervisor Fabi Maldonado, who also pushed for the referendum, said with those results he’s ready to push for full legalization.
“We will make sure that legalization happens in Wisconsin,” he said.
Schmaling said he is a fan of medicinal marijuana, but not recreational marijuana use. “This community, this country, is not ready for that.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who won re-election on Tuesday, said he has been in favor of medical marijuana but to him, this is a federal issue.
“This really is a signal, for me, to have the federal government step in and deal with this issue,” Vos said. “Whether or not Wisconsin makes a decision on marijuana it’s still a federal crime. So this really needs to be dealt with in Washington.”
Vos said medical marijuana should be prescribed like a prescription painkiller.
“But I also do not support recreational marijuana,” Vos said. “I saw the results of the advisory referendum and I’m open to listening to the arguments. But I don’t know why in the world we would make access to any drugs easier when we’re dealing with such a huge opioid and drug crisis in Wisconsin.”
Sixteen other counties held marijuana referendums as well on Tuesday including neighboring Kenosha and Waukesha Counties, which only asked about medicinal marijuana.
Kenosha voted overwhelmingly in favor of medicinal marijuana with 88 percent approval. Waukesha also voted in favor of medical marijuana with 76.6 percent approval.