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Wisconsin police continue to monitor potential effects of recreational marijuana in Illinois
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Wisconsin police continue to monitor potential effects of recreational marijuana in Illinois


Despite dispensaries quickly popping up along Illinois’ northern border after that state legalized recreational marijuana almost a year ago, local law enforcement officials say they have not yet seen any major impacts here in Wisconsin.

Officials with the Rock County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Janesville and Beloit said they have not seen any rise in marijuana possession charges this year — though they caution the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may cloud the data as it has drastically affected businesses and travel.

“It’s such an anomaly year that I don’t know if we can draw any conclusions as to the impact at this point, but we’ll keep an eye on it,” said Sgt. Mark Ratzlaff, who is in charge of Janesville Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit.

Recreational marijuana was officially legalized in Illinois on Jan. 1, with dispensaries opening up soon after in Chicago, Rockford and South Beloit.

A 2017 National Bureau of Economic Research report on the spillover effects of recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington on neighboring states found “a sharp increase in marijuana possession arrests in border counties” relative to non-border counties.

State and local officials said about a year ago they would monitor the drug, which remains illegal in Wisconsin, to see if any major effects are noticed. So far the impacts have been minimal, according to officials in several southern Wisconsin communities.

The Rock County Sheriff’s Office logged 200 arrests for possession of THC — the ingredient in cannabis that can produce a high — as of Dec. 21 this year, compared with 179 arrests in the same timeframe last year. In the same span in 2018, there were 246 such arrests.

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Cmdr. Jude Maurer said arrests and citations fluctuate from year to year and so far the department has not had to make any changes to operations related to marijuana.

The same could be said in Beloit, near where a dispensary opened up just south of the border in South Beloit.

“There might have been a handful at most, of people who were arrested for possession of marijuana that said they got it legally in Illinois,” said Beloit Police Inspector Thomas Stigler. “It’s had a very minimal impact.”

In November, AAA-The Auto Club Group issued a statement noting that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana doubled in Washington state since it legalized recreational use in late 2012.

As with alcohol, marijuana can slow a driver’s reaction time and increase the risk of a crash, AAA public affairs director Nick Jarmusz said.

“Impaired driving jeopardizes public safety on our roadways regardless of whether the substance used is legal, prescribed, obtained over-the counter or purchased in a retail setting,” Jarmusz said.

There were a handful of attempts to legalize some form of marijuana use by Wisconsin lawmakers last year, but none of the efforts gained much traction in the GOP-led Legislature.

The Legislature has not convened since April, but discussions are taking place for a session in early 2021. However, it is expected to focus primarily on COVID-19-related measures. Marijuana legalization, whether medicinal or recreational, could come up next year, but it remains to be seen if the topic will receive much support from state Republicans.

Fave 5: State government reporter Mitchell Schmidt shares his top stories of 2020

Choosing my five favorite stories of 2020 seems almost paradoxical.

This year has felt like one exhausting slog of pandemic stories, state Legislature updates and, oh yeah, a presidential election thrown in for good measure. Thanks to a split government, there's been no shortage of politically-charged stories here in Wisconsin and the partisan divide has, maybe unsurprisingly, felt as wide as ever throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don't know if "favorite" is the best way to describe them, but here are a few stories from 2020 that stood out to me:

Back in March, Gov. Tony Evers issued the state's first public health emergency in response to the then-emerging pandemic. At the time, Wisconsin had reported eight total cases of COVID-19.

As the pandemic progressed, positive cases and deaths climbed and state lawmakers battled over the appropriate response. In May, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Evers' stay-at-home order, a decision that still resonates today with the state's coronavirus-related measures.

One story I was particularly excited about before I officially started working for the State Journal was the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. However, like most things this year, the pandemic drastically altered that plan.

In non-pandemic news, the state in October formally denied billions of dollars in state tax credits to Foxconn Technology Group — a story we managed to get before any other outlet in the state through records requests and sourcing.

Lastly, in November I worked on a story about how GOP-drawn legislative maps once again disproportionately benefited Republicans in state elections. Wisconsin is headed toward another legal battle next year when the next batch of 10-year maps are drawn.

Feel free to read my top stories below, or check out my other state government articles from this year, (by my count, there have been more than 300 so far).

Also, thanks to all the subscribers out there. This year has been challenging on so many people, so your support is so much appreciated.

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