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Wisconsin should be the next state to legalize marijuana
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EDITORIAL

Wisconsin should be the next state to legalize marijuana

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The largest dispensary of recreational marijuana in Illinois opened last summer in a strategic and lucrative spot: right along the state line with Wisconsin.

The 7,200-square-foot Sunnyside store in South Beloit, Illinois, is just a 55-mile drive down Interstate 39-90 from Madison. It’s expected to generate $100,000 in local sales tax revenue a year while encouraging additional development, according to South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl.

“At a dozen different levels, this is a gift to South Beloit,” Rehl told the Rockford Register.

One of the biggest givers is Wisconsin. The article in the Rockford newspaper featured a customer from Whitewater making a purchase at the South Beloit dispensary, which is visible from the interstate and employs 35 people. Rehl expects his community’s annual revenue from the store to eventually increase to $700,000 annually — assuming, he said, Wisconsin doesn’t legalize recreational pot.

We sure hope Wisconsin lawmakers are smarter than that. It’s time to recognize reality at the statehouse in Madison: Marijuana isn’t the terrible substance it was made out to be for decades, and Wisconsin is losing millions of dollars in revenue to other states — without effectively stopping the drug’s use.

Similar marijuana dispensaries are expected along the Upper Michigan state line catering to northeastern Wisconsin residents. The Menominee, Michigan, city council last month approved an ordinance allowing growers and retail outlets, according to the Marinette Eagle Herald. Menominee is adjacent to the Wisconsin city of Marinette, about 55 miles northeast of Green Bay. Two universities in Michigan are even offering degree programs “to break into the budding business,” the Detroit Free Press reported.

Here in Madison, the City Council this month wisely approved small amounts of marijuana for personal use in the city, assuming the owner of the property where it is consumed has given permission. Though state and federal law still ban possession, the city is acting on its own, thanks to a pledge from Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne not to prosecute small amounts.

Wisconsin’s outdated and unscientific view of cannabis must change.

As Madison’s new ordinance reflects, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned, marijuana use by teenagers can harm their developing brains. That’s why Madison doesn’t allow consumption by anyone younger than 18, and bars cannabis within 1,000 feet of schools and on school buses. Driving high is dangerous, which is why Madison prohibits marijuana use in motor vehicles that are operating.

But when it comes to adults, legalizing and regulating the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana in Wisconsin will solve more problems than it creates. The drug hasn’t caused surges in crime and addiction in states that have allowed it for medical and recreational use. Instead, it has pulled in tens of millions of dollars in revenue for governments while letting grownups use a substance less harmful than alcohol.

Voters in the Nov. 3 election approved recreational marijuana in New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota, bringing to 15 states the number that will now let adults smoke pot for enjoyment.

Wisconsin should follow this trend. Legalizing marijuana here would free up our police and courts to deal with serious crime. It also would help fund state services. In Oklahoma, one of the nation’s most conservative states, marijuana proceeds have created more revenue than the state lottery.

A new state Legislature should give recreational pot a fair hearing and consideration when lawmakers return to the Capitol in Madison in January. Regulating and taxing cannabis will make using the drug safer, reduce crime, increase state revenue and grant adults more freedom to live their lives as they please.

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