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Friday, December 08, 2023

Sen. Melissa Agard and Rep. Darrin Madison introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in face of GOP pushback

Despite various efforts from the Democrats to legalize marijuana, Wisconsin remains one of 12 states where the substance is illegal.

Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, and Rep. Darrin Madison, D-Milwaukee, introduced legislation to legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years or older on Friday. 

The bill would allow adults to possess up to five ounces of cannabis and prohibits those who exceed this limit from receiving felony charges. It also substitutes fines in place of criminal penalties for underage users. 

Agard emphasized the need for supporting agricultural heritage and addressing racial disparities in Wisconsin in an interview with The Daily Cardinal. 

“The most dangerous thing about cannabis is that it is illegal,” Agard said. 

Madison echoed Agard’s sentiments and said the bill “lays a solid foundation” for those convicted for non-violent possession charges. He cited a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that found that Black people in Wisconsin are more than four times as likely to be charged with a marijuana-related offense than their white counterparts. 

Wisconsin Democrats argued legalizing the sale of cannabis would provide the state with needed tax revenue. Agard and Madison’s bill would enforce a 15% tax on the wholesale level and an additional 10% tax on all sales of the substance, with the exception of marijuana sold for medical purposes. 

An estimated 60% of this tax revenue will be put toward community reinvestment grants, according to the Wisconsin Examiner.

Legalizing cannabis: a feasible plan or an unrealistic dream?

Wisconsin is one of 12 states where marijuana remains illegal. 

A number of traditionally Republican-dominated states, like Missouri and Montana, have legalized cannabis for recreational or medical use, according to Reuters. Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, three states that border Wisconsin, have also legalized cannabis for recreational use. 

A recent Marquette University Law School poll found 64% of Wisconsin respondents supported decriminalizing marijuana. 

“The views of Republicans in the legislature do not reflect that,” Agard said.

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In April, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, announced Republicans were working towards a plan to legalize medical cannabis. Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in January that Republican lawmakers would desert support for medical marijuana if Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' budget proposal planned to legalize recreational cannabis. 

Earlier in the year, Republicans in the legislature rejected Evers’ proposed budget, which included proposals to legalize marijuana in the state. 

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