RACINE – City of Racine voters will have their second opportunity in four years to weigh in on the legalization of marijuana.
Racine Common Council, on a 10-2 vote Tuesday, approved a resolution to place an advisory referendum on the Nov. 8 general election ballot to measure public opinion on marijuana legalization. The yes-or-no question will state: “Should marijuana be legalized for adult-use, taxed and regulated like alcohol?”
Because the ballot question is advisory, it has no real power in determining whether marijuana could someday be legalized in the state or city. That’s up to the Wisconsin State Legislature whose Republican Party leadership has been cool to the idea. A GOP proposal to legalize marijuana for medical use got a public hearing in April but no action was taken because the Legislature had adjourned for the year.
Majority said yes to legalization of marijuana in 2018
City voters previously approved advisory referenda on the marijuana question in November 2018. At that time, 83 percent of voters agreed that marijuana should be taxed and 73 percent voted to decriminalize marijuana use.
Also in the 2018 general election, voters in 16 Wisconsin counties, including Racine and Kenosha, approved advisory referenda to legalize marijuana for medical, recreational or both uses. Kenosha County voters approved a medical marijuana question; Racine County voters approved both recreational and medical uses.
Statewide polling shows same results
The latest proposal for a broad-based marijuana advisory referendum was sponsored by Racine Mayor Cory Mason and Alders C.J. Rouse, Sam Peete, Marcus West and Amana Paffrath. They argued that statewide polling from earlier this year shows that 61 percent of residents survey believe that marijuana should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol and the support cuts across party lines. The proponents also contended that Racine is missing out on business opportunities and tax revenue from marijuana sales and that marijuana is an alternative to dangerously addictive prescription pain-killers.
Wisconsin is one of just 13 states that has no legalization provisions for marijuana. Eighteen states have fully legalized it, including Illinois and Michigan. Wisconsin’s other two neighbors, Iowa and Minnesota, allow only the medical use of marijuana.
Alder Perez: An adamant no
Although a substantial majority of the Racine Council was on board with bringing up a new marijuana advisory vote, Alder Henry Perez of the 12th District was having none of it.
“I don’t have a problem with medical marijuana but I do have a problem with recreational marijuana because I’ve seen it first hand,” said Perez, who was a Miami, Fla., police officer before moving to Racine. He now works as a safety consultant and a special education teacher.
Perez said that as a police officer he made numerous arrests of people who were under the influence of marijuana and, as motorists, constituted serious public safety hazards.
Citing numerous statistics in his notes, Perez said that recreational use of marijuana – both legally and illegally – can lead to serious community mental health issues. He cited increased instances of depression, schizophrenia and anxiety among marijuana users and said he was particularly concerned about the cognitive effects to youth and young adults.
“I work in a school. I know that kids use marijuana but treat it like it’s no big deal,” he said.
“This not an issue to be taken lightly or lightheartedly. This is an issue that is serious,” Perez said. “If we as a city are going to recommend this to the state, there will be consequences and we will have to, as a city council, be responsible for the actions.
“Please, don’t vote this in. It’s ridiculous.”
Alder Rouse: Vote is litmus test
One of the proposal’s sponsors, Alder C.J. Rouse of the 11th District, argued that the new advisory referendum would gauge the latest voter sentiment – at the aldermanic district level –about marijuana legalization.
“The one thing this does do well is provides a good litmus test as to where voters are right now,” he said.
Rouse added that legalized marijuana is “a tool that we can use to start pushing back against what divides our city” because it has the potential to reduce both arrests and criminal records.
Another sponsor, Alder Sam Peete of the 10th District, noted that the data “can be argued both ways.” He reminded his fellow council members that when taking votes, they should consider what Racine residents want.
Drug screening changes suggested
Meanwhile, Alder Jeffrey Peterson of the 6th District described the referendum as “a symbolic gesture” given the Legislature’s overall inaction regarding marijuana questions.
After learning from a city human relations staff member during Tuesday’s meeting that prospective city employee candidates are subject to a drug screening that includes marijuana, he suggested that the marijuana usage screen be dropped with the exception of the CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) requirement and police personnel.
When the vote was taken, Perez was joined in voting “no” by Alder Terry McCarthy of the 9th District. McCarthy did not speak prior to his vote Tuesday. However, in his statements, Perez recalled McCarthy stating prior to the 2018 advisory referendum that he didn’t believe the issue was in the council’s “wheelhouse.”
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