When the news came last week that New Mexico officials had ended their state’s prohibition on marijuana use and sales, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes had exactly the right reaction: envy.
“This week, New Mexico became the 17th state to fully legalize marijuana,” Barnes said. “Wisconsin needs to be next.”
The lieutenant governor backed his assertion up with a compelling argument that needs to be considered by Wisconsinites of all ages, backgrounds and political persuasions.
“Our neighbors in Illinois and Michigan are already reaping the benefits of legalization, benefits that we are missing out on,” he said. “At this moment, people are crossing into neighboring states to buy products that generate tax revenue for other states instead of ours. Legalizing marijuana will help us capture that revenue and invest it in the state of Wisconsin while helping advance equity in our communities.”
Barnes and Gov. Tony Evers are just talking about getting the economic and social calculus right. They have proposed a smart plan to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, with an eye on reaping $165 million in revenue annually. At least $80 million that money would be reinvested in equity initiatives and our public schools.
But Barnes reminds us that, in addition to making budgetary sense, legalization makes sense from a racial justice standpoint.
“Black Wisconsinites are over four times more likely to be convicted for marijuana possession,” the lieutenant governor noted. "By ending marijuana prohibition, we can begin to undo the failed drug policies that have disproportionately harmed communities of color in our state and across the country.”
Unfortunately, the Republican majorities in the state Assembly and Senate are not inclined to respond to the commonsense proposals of the Evers-Barnes administration. Last week, state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, announced that — despite polls that show overwhelming support for legalization of marijuana among Democrats, independents and Republicans — the Senate is not planning to take the issue up.
"We don’t have support from the caucus,” he claimed. “That’s pretty clear, that we don’t have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes (that would) legalize it.”
What LeMahieu didn’t say is that at least some Senate Republicans have given indications that they could support medicinal marijuana and that a combination of open-minded Republicans and Democrats might be able to muster a majority to pass a bill. The barrier is LeMahieu, himself. He’s opposed to any state move to ease restrictions on marijuana. Why? He says, "I think that discussion needs to be done at the federal level and not have some rogue state doing it without actual science behind it.”
LeMahieu’s argument makes no sense.
First, the actual science confirmed long ago that marijuana has medicinal value, and thus should be available for people who need it.
Second, the actual science also confirms that marijuana is far less dangerous than nicotine, alcohol and lots of currently-legal substances.
Third, Wisconsin would not be a rogue state if it legalized marijuana.
As Barnes has explained, Wisconsin is the rogue state because it hasn’t embraced the trend toward legalization. Neighboring states have moved on the issue and Wisconsin is being left behind.
“Marijuana prohibition represents the politics of the past,” Barnes said. “Legalizing it is a no-brainer.”
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