A county official is hoping the Spring 2014 election will become the platform from which voters can express to the state Legislature their opinion about the legal status of marijuana in Wisconsin.
District 5 Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan, a University of Wisconsin-Madison junior, proposed attaching a referendum to the Spring 2014 ballot polling constituents about whether or not they would support legislation fully legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin.
A similar referendum concerning the legalization of medical marijuana conducted during the 2010 Dane County Board elections showed more than 75 percent of county voters favored state legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
However, Pan believes the state should completely repeal the marijuana prohibition. He linked the above-average levels of racial disparities in Dane County to the marijuana ban and said it not only marginalizes minority populations but also ineffectively attempts to curb marijuana use and possession.
“It’s a medical issue and not a criminal issue in terms of addiction or in terms of drug abuse,” Pan said. “I don’t think sending people to prison is even an appropriate way of helping people with their drug issues.”
According to Pan, a recent Center on Wisconsin Strategy study found that while 12 percent of marijuana users are black, 80 percent of people arrested and incarcerated for marijuana possession are black.
“The issue disproportionately affects people of color, and people of color are disproportionately punished for drug use and drug possession,” Pan said.
In addition to relieving some of Dane County’s inequalities and the overpopulation of its jails, Pan said the legalization of marijuana makes scientific sense.
“I certainly don’t see it as addictive as alcohol or even as potentially harmful,” Pan said.
He added “there should be a legal age, like tobacco or alcohol. And it should be taxed and regulated like other controlled substances.”
Although no other state municipality has made a unified statement on the matter of marijuana legalization, Pan believes it can become another situation in which Dane County serves as a leader for progressive causes.
The proposal will now go to a county subcommittee before the Board votes on it, potentially as early as January.