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With a Dane County hemp farm as a backdrop, Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) renewed her campaign Friday to sell Wisconsin lawmakers on legalizing recreational cannabis for adults.

This story also appeared in Wisconsin Examiner

“There was a time when alcohol was prohibited in Wisconsin and across our nation, and there was a time when margarine was prohibited,” Agard said at a press conference in rural Cottage Grove. “Prohibition does not work.”

Legalizing and taxing cannabis would improve public safety by allowing the product to be regulated, she argued. Wisconsin agriculture would benefit as well, she added.

“Legalization will bring us hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue, and quite frankly, potentially billion dollars of economic stimulus,” Agard said. “And 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.”

Draft legislation, with Agard the lead author in the Senate and Rep. Darin Madison (D-Milwaukee) the lead author in the Assembly, was sent around Friday for cosponsors, with a deadline of Friday, Sept. 29.

Outlawing cannabis has contributed to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Madison said, with Black users more likely to be arrested, charged and incarcerated while the rates of marijuana use are about the same for both white and Black populations. That disparate treatment carries over to the futures of people who end up convicted and incarcerated, he added.

The proposed legislation includes a provision to invest 60% of the revenue generated from taxing marijuana in “communities that have been disproportionately affected by our decades-old racist marijuana policies,” Agard said.

Agard conducted a statewide tour to promote legalization in May and has organized a second one that will take place starting this month and lasting into early December.

“The people of Wisconsin who have attended these tours …  were not defined by any sort of party affiliation or geography,” she said. “And they don’t have the same demographics and age, race or gender. And frankly, I don’t think they vote for the same people at the top of the ticket. It’s clear that we have a broad coalition of support for legalization like few policies that I have seen in my time in the Legislature.”

Democratic lawmakers roll out new push to legalize marijuana
A hemp plant at a Cottage Grove farm. Hemp, used for industrial purposes and now grown legally in Wisconsin, is made from a variety of the cannabis plant that is low in THC, the active ingredient that is responsible for the intoxicating effect of marijuana. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)

Vast majority favors legalization

Polling data has shown support grow across the state over the last decade, with nearly 70% of voters now telling pollsters they favor legalization, Agard said, including a majority of Republican as well as Democratic voters.

People opposing legalization have cited a variety of reasons, she said.

“Most of it’s based on misinformation,” Agard said in an interview. “We know that youth usage does not increase in states that have legalized it. We know that you’re actually able to address impaired driving in states that do legalize. We know that there can be protections for employers as well as employees with legalization.”

Agard believes some Republican lawmakers would favor her bill but are constrained from doing so by their leaders in the Legislature. Contrary to widespread belief, however, Agard doesn’t see evidence of a strong lobbying campaign against legalization. What’s holding it back, she said, is “the beliefs of a few powerful men in the Capitol building.”

Wisconsin Examiner, WisExam

by Erik Gunn, Wisconsin Examiner
September 25, 2023

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