Governor Tony Evers added a proposal to legalize and tax marijuana in his two-year budget, which he fully revealed on Tuesday. The plan is met with opposition from Republican lawmakers who asked the governor to avoid “divisive” policy proposals in his budget.
The governor previously announced on Feb.7 that his budget would include the proposal. Under the plan, marijuana would be regulated and taxed with alcohol much like the state.
“In all fairness, the red and blue states across the country have pushed legalization and there’s no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s backed by a majority of the Wisconsinites,” Evers said.
In a 2019 poll by Marquette Law School, 59 percent of voters said marijuana should be legal, and 83 percent said it should be legal for medical purposes.
Under Evers’ proposal, recreational marijuana would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale sales and a 10 percent excise tax on retail sales. Individuals would have to be 21 years old to buy recreational marijuana. Those who use marijuana for medicinal purposes would be exempt from the additional tax and regular sales tax.
Evers included a plan to legalize medical marijuana in its 2019-21 budget, but it was rejected by Republicans in lawmakers.
The plan is expected to produce $ 165.8 million annually beginning in fiscal 2022-23. Sixty percent of excise revenue would be used to “improve social justice and help underserved communities”. The administration estimates $ 79.3 million to be added to a new Community Reinvestment Fund that will provide grants for diversity initiatives, community health workers and small rural school districts.
In response to Evers’ budget address on Tuesday, some Democrats supported the proposal to legalize marijuana, including Senator Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee and Senator Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison.
Republicans have criticized the Evers budget as a whole and will likely rewrite most or all of Evers’ proposals. Congregation spokesman Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the legalization of recreational marijuana was just a “poison pill” in Evers’ budget.
Senator Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said Monday he was “firmly against any proposal to legalize marijuana.” Stroebel sits on the Joint Finance Committee, which plays an important role in shaping the state budget.
Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaven Dam, said he was “disappointed that Governor Evers has ignored Republican demands in the legislature and included contentious issues in his budget proposal. Welfare expansion and the legalization of marijuana are things that we said before we wouldn’t put them in the budget – but the governor added them anyway. “
In a UPFRONT interview broadcast on Sunday, Born, a co-chair of the JFC, said the budget process is not the place to discuss marijuana legalization. “If lawmakers want to take it up and pass it outside of the budget, I’m more than willing to do so,” Evers said.
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Senator Melissa Agard, D-Madison, has been pushing for such legislation since 2013. She said her bills had gained more co-sponsors each legislature. She said she would keep pushing for legalization even if Republicans are against Ever’s proposal.
“I will keep doing what I can. It’s clear that the work I’ve done over these years has brought more people on board. It’s a big step if the governor includes it in his budget, ”said Agard. “I’m not going to slow down.”
Last week, Agard sent a letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee asking them to keep legalization and taxation in the state budget.
“I ask you both to put politics aside and examine this proposal on the merits. Wisconsin is fast becoming an island of prohibition. Any session where we refuse to legalize marijuana is a session we lose in prosperity to our Midwestern states, and we fall back on our moral obligations as lawmakers to ensure equality under the law for those who we represent, ”wrote Agard.
Agard said the issue is not whether Wisconsin will legalize marijuana, but when.
“You can literally have one foot in Illinois and one foot in Wisconsin and you will be treated differently,” Agard said. “We lose revenue every day when people drive across borders to pharmacies in Michigan and Illinois and spend our tax dollars.”
Agard said legalization is a “moral choice” for Wisconsin at a time when “we must address our vast racial differences”.
The ACLU also supports the plan, citing its 2020 report which found that black Wisconsinites were 4.2 times more likely than white Wisconsinites to be arrested for “simple marijuana possession” statewide, compared to the statewide ratio of 3 , 65.
“Marijuana enforcement has become a means for law enforcement to target color communities,” said Molly Collins, advocacy director of the Wisconsin ACLU. “It is time to end the racially biased and wasteful war on marijuana in Wisconsin.”
UW-Madison’s sociology professor Pamela Oliver also commented on what legalization would mean for racial differences in the criminal justice system.
“On the one hand, enforcement of marijuana laws has been racially unequal, so it’s possible that legalizing marijuana could help. On the other hand, there could still be racially different police operations, ”said Oliver.
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