Gov. Tony Evers said last week he will propose legalizing marijuana for Wisconsin residents in his state budget as part of a plan to generate $166 million in revenue to help fund rural schools and programs for marginalized communities.
Predictably, it was met with a bucket of cold water from state Republicans who can’t seem to spell the word Evers without adding an “n” in front of it to make it Nevers.
So, no, we don’t expect Evers’ proposal will come within a wisp of gaining passage from the GOP-controlled Legislature.
But it’s probably a good time for state Republicans to do a reality check.
The reality is this:
Across the country, there is a boom in marijuana legalization, both for recreational and medical purposes. In November, voters in Arizona, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota approved ballot measures to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana. Currently recreational marijuana is legal in 15 states, and 36 states allow medical marijuana. Next up will be New York, Virginia, New Mexico and Connecticut, where strong pushes for legal, recreational use are expected in the coming weeks.
Closer to home, neighbors Michigan and Illinois were already on that list. Along our national borders, Canada has legalized it and Mexico is expected to go that route shortly.
Cannabis sales are going through the roof and topped $20 billion in the U.S. last year, a 50% jump over 2019.
A Marquette University Law Poll in 2019 showed that nearly 60% of state residents support legalizing recreational pot usage, and 83% supported legalization for medical purposes. That’s consistent with a Gallup poll last fall that showed 68% of Americans favor legalizing pot.
With Congress now controlled by Democrats, chances appear good for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, which would make it easier for banks to offer financial services to the cannabis industry, allowing legal cannabis businesses to use credit cards and move it away from the risky, cash-only sales currently enforced.
Of course, we can’t forget that two years ago, 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities voted to support medical or recreational marijuana use in advisory referendums. Six of those counties urged making recreational use legal, including Racine County, which polled 60.2% in favor.
We have long advocated a go-slow approach to legalizing marijuana and have urged the federal government to allow more medical testing on cannabis usage and its long-term effects — which is currently all but banned.
But neither are we advocates of putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the realities around us. That reality is that marijuana legalization is likely coming to the Badger State sometime soon and we are foolish to reject the tax revenue that would flow into state coffers.