Rep. Melissa Sargent

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, announced in April that she would introduce a bill to fully legalize marijuana in Wisconsin. She is flanked by, left, Alan Robinson, executive director of the Wisconsin chapter of NORML; and Bob Daggett, a farmer from Montello. Sargent introduced the bill on May 17.

We still hold to the view that Wisconsin is a more progressive state than Illinois. But our friends from south of the border are making it harder to dismiss them. Last week, Illinois legislators gave final approval to the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), a measure that will (with the signature of Gov. J.B. Pritzker) legalize and regulate the use of marijuana by adults in the state. Illinois is now set to become the 11th state in the country to legalize marijuana for adult use. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, Illinois is also the first state to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis to adults via its legislative process.

“What this also shows, first with Michigan in 2018 and now with Illinois in 2019, is that the heartland states are clearly deciding that the time to end the prohibition on cannabis has come,” says MPP Executive Director Steve Hawkins.

We agree. The Capital Times has for decades advocated for the legalization of marijuana. The idea has always been popular in Madison. But legalization now enjoys the support of a substantial majority statewide. A 2018 poll conducted by Myers Research group for Forever Wisconsin found that 64 percent of the Wisconsin voters who were surveyed favored legalization, while less than a third favored maintaining prohibition. Last year, when 23 advisory measures were put on the November ballot in 16 counties and two cities, nearly a million voters signaled that they favor legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use.

We are convinced that if a statewide ballot measure was put on the ballot, Wisconsin voters would follow the lead of the Michigan voters, who in 2018 decided by a 56-44 margin to legalize marijuana in their state. Unfortunately, Wisconsin does not allow voters to supersede the Legislature and just get things done. So it is that, while conscientious legislators led by state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, have advanced sound proposals for legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin, the Republican leaders in the state Assembly and the state Senate continue to thwart the will of the people.

In so doing, they are making Wisconsin an outlier state, while neighbors such as Michigan and Illinois adopt proposals that achieve meaningful criminal justice reform while raising revenues and strengthening their economies. We are especially impressed with the Illinois proposal.

Here's a succinct description of how it would work in Illinois from the MPP: "Starting Jan. 1, 2020, adults could possess cannabis and purchase cannabis products in licensed stores. Possession would be limited to 30 grams of raw cannabis, cannabis-infused products containing no more than 500 mg of THC, and 5 grams of cannabis product in concentrated form. In addition to legalizing cannabis for adult use, the CRTA would create robust measures to redress the harms caused to those communities targeted for cannabis arrests and convictions. The bill would: (1) clear the records of 770,000 cases, according to the Illinois State Policy Advisory Council, through unprecedented expungement provisions; (2) direct a significant amount of the tax revenue to communities hard hit by the drug war; and (3) include groundbreaking measures to ensure an inclusive, equitable industry."

That’s a sound approach. It will work. We still have faith that Wisconsin could come up with an even better plan for legalization. But, at this point, we’re playing catch-up rather than leading on behalf of the sort of sound and progressive policymaking for which this state was once known.

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