On November 8, voters in several municipalities will answer ballot referendum questions about marijuana legalization.
In general, the referendum questions will ask voters for their stance on whether marijuana should be legal for use by adults, taxed, and regulated like alcohol.
Countywide referendums on marijuana legalization are set for Dane County, Eau Claire County, and Milwaukee County.
Appleton, Kenosha, Racine, Stevens Point, and Superior officials approved citywide referendums.
These referendums are advisory only.
As noted in several of the authorizing resolutions, the referendums are meant to measure public opinion and send that message to state legislators and the governor.
Resolutions point to the legalization of marijuana in some form in at least 37 states, including every state surrounding Wisconsin. The Dane County resolution points to Wisconsin “becoming an island of prohibition.”
The resolutions also point to anticipated tax revenue and business opportunities related to legalization. Eau Claire County’s resolution specifically references $600 million and $300 million in tax revenue collected by Illinois and Michigan, respectively.
Some resolutions note the use of marijuana for pain relief. The Superior resolution, for instance, notes that “marijuana use as an alternative to prescription pain killers has been shown to reduce opioid addiction, and 22% of U.S. military veterans report using medical marijuana to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
Resolutions also reference how criminalization has failed to curb marijuana use, the potential for undercutting the illegal market and ensuring that marijuana use is regulated and safe, and a desire to divert law enforcement resources to more serious crimes.
Milwaukee County’s resolution points to criminal enforcement that “often results in charges disproportionately to people of color and young people.” Dane County’s resolution similarly points to disparities in arrests “with Black individuals over four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white individuals in Wisconsin, according to 2019 data.”
Some of the approved referendum questions set the age of legal use at 21, while others refer simply to adult use. Superior Councilor Mark Johnson moved for the age-21 threshold in his city’s ballot question due to his concern about use by youth.
Johnson told WJI that he intends the Superior referendum to let city officials know where the community stands generally on the issue. Legalization is happening across the county, and his constituents may “agree that the house needs to be built” even if they disagree about specific details like the color of the cabinets, he said.
In Milwaukee County, where a legalization question appeared on the ballot in 2018, the resolution authorizing this year’s question states that it is important to ask voters “the same question again to better understand how people’s views are changing on the issue of marijuana legalization, and to help put a stop to the waste of public resources toward enforcement which unjustly affects people of color.”
Marquette Law School poll results released August 17, 2022, show that 69% of all respondents — including 51% of identified Republicans — believe marijuana should be legal in Wisconsin. Only 23% of respondents were opposed to legalization, while 8% said they were unsure.
Under current Wisconsin law, a first offense for marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Second and subsequent possession offenses are felonies. A second offense may result in up to three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Dane County approved a second referendum question related to marijuana. Voters there will be asked whether all records of previous convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana should be expunged.
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