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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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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.

Surrounded by a sea of smoke, Wisconsin raises cannabis reform conversations

With surrounding states legalizing weed, is it finally Wisconsin’s turn?

The decision to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes has been an ongoing debate between lawmakers in Wisconsin for years. 

A 2022 study at Marquette Law School found that 69% of registered voters in Wisconsin support the legalization of recreational cannabis. Ideally, this would be enough to push lawmakers to do the same. However, it’s not that easy. The real hurdles to get past are Republican legislators who actively block the introduction of these bills, according to ACLU Wisconsin

The cannabis plant contains two cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC causes mind- and mood-altering effects that generally help regulate stress, reduce inflammation and relieve chronic pain. CBD can reduce the negative side effects of THC, such as heightened anxiety and paranoia. 

The most well-studied benefits of human cannabis use include improved sleep, reduced nausea and vomiting, improved appetite and, most importantly, an improved quality of life. Researchers at the National Library of Medicine have come to the conclusion that although cannabis may not be the end all cure for diseases, it does have the power to improve a person’s quality of life. Even though a disease may persist in the human body, there is a possibility for the symptoms to be more manageable with consistent marijuana usage. 

Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz signed a cannabis legalization bill into law, allowing the recreational use of marijuana for all adults over the age of 21 beginning on Aug. 1. Minnesota became the 23rd state to legalize marijuana, AP News states. 

Every state bordering Wisconsin has legalized marijuana use to some extent. Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota have all legalized cannabis for recreational use within the last decade. Iowa permits it for medical consumption. Many Democratic lawmakers fear the risks of Wisconsin falling behind in the weed legalization movement prove greater risk than rewards. 

Each year, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers includes decriminalization and adult-use legalization in his executive budgets, hoping that legislators will consider them. Ever’s 2023-25 budget request also included the same legalization efforts, but the effort failed to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, D-Madison, an advocate for marijuana legalization, strongly believes it is the best decision for Wisconsin. 

“Legalization will bring us hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue, and quite frankly, potentially billions of dollars of economic stimulus,” Agard told the Wisconsin Examiner in September. “It would bring an industry out of the shadows and allow it to thrive in an open and transparent manner. Illicit industries are not healthy for our state.”

Agard highlights the potential economic benefits legal cannabis has to bring to Wisconsin. The amount of tax revenue Wisconsin is missing out on because Republican legislators, such as Assembly Speaker Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, refuse to sign the bill into law is astounding. 

In Illinois, easy access to dispensaries has generated around $1.5 billion dollars in cannabis sales during 2022 alone. Further analysis has proven that Wisconsinites have contributed about $36 million out of the $452 million Illinois collected in tax revenue from marijuana sales in 2022.  Analysis from Minnesota’s Department of Revenue estimates around $110 million in tax revenue for Minnesota by 2027. 

Studies show that half of Wisconsin residents over the age of 21 live within a 75-minute drive to a recreational dispensary. Many residents travel to surrounding states to spend their hard-earned money at these dispensaries, contributing to other states’ economies when they would much rather have easier access in their home state. 

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Wisconsin has danced around the topic of marijuana legalization for far too long. Although Evers and Agard are fighting for the legal use of recreational cannabis to Wisconsin residents, there is still a long battle ahead. 

Hana is a junior studying Journalism and Strategic Communication. Do you believe that marijuana should be legalized in Wisconsin? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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