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Saturday, May 08, 2021
Photo of a bottle of marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said that there are “societal concerns” to legalizing marijuana. A majority of Wisconsin voters say marijuana use should be legal.

Top Republican lawmaker rules out marijuana legalization

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said Thursday that the Republican-controlled state legislature will not legalize recreational or medical marijuana.  

“We don’t have support from the caucus. That’s pretty clear, that we don’t have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes [to] legalize it,” LeMahieu said at a WisPolitics luncheon

LeMahieu said that if the FDA approves it for medical use, marijuana should be treated like other prescription drugs. He said that states should not pass laws that are “in conflict with the federal government.”

Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal included a plan to legalize and tax marijuana, which would be expected to raise $165.8 million per year starting in 2022-23. Part of that amount would go towards grants for underserved communities. 

“When people are passing referenda to say, 'We believe that we should have recreational and/or medicinal marijuana,’ that’s what we should do as legislators and as leaders,” Evers said in a video posted to Twitter Wednesday.

A 2019 Marquette Law School poll found that 59% of Wisconsin voters say marijuana use should be legal. Eighty-three percent said that use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription should be legal. 

Michigan and Illinois have legalized recreational marijuana, and Democrats have argued that Wisconsin is experiencing revenue losses when residents drive across the borders. 

“I don’t think, from a policy standpoint, it puts a whole lot of pressure on us,” LeMahieu said. He said that legalization in neighboring states poses challenges for law enforcement. 

Evers said in a radio address Thursday that the plan includes “modifying criminal penalties for marijuana-related crimes to align with legalization and [creating] a process for individuals serving sentences or previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes to have the opportunity to repeal or reduce their sentences for nonviolent minor offenses.” 

A 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union found that Black Wisconsinites are at least 4 times more likely than white Wisconsinites to be arrested for marijuana possession, as of 2018.

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Hope Karnopp

state news writer

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