“Wisconsinites overwhelmingly agree that access to medical marijuana, CBD oil, and decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana are critically important issues and I think we can get this done in the budget,” Governor Tony Evers said in a February 2019 announcement of plans to include medical marijuana legalization and decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana in the budget.
Republican lawmakers have since made it clear, this is not an issue that will be settled in the budget.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-5th district) explained the decision to Local 5.
“Those are big policy items that will be removed from the budget as we have in years past under Governor Walker,” he said, “policy items that are included in the budget are removed and should be deliberated separately.”
It’s a move Alan Robinson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was not surprised by.
“We are disheartened that that was the outcome,” he said, “however, we understand that this is an uphill battle and we are not afraid of the mountain that we are climbing.”
In recent years, the Wisconsin Chapter of NORML had shifted its focus to changing municipal laws.
“That resulted in Madison reducing its fine for possession from $1000 to one dollar,” Robinson said, “so I mean, we’ve done some very impactful local work.”
With the recent show of support from the governor and referendum results showing widespread support for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, Wisconsin NORML is now meeting with state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
“It’s not adversarial,” Robinson said. “It’s always us trying to provide information for them, us trying to be an informational resource or us trying to help them overcome the objections that they don’t understand.”
However, some GOP Lawmakers say that they do understand, after observing states that have already legalized marijuana.
“It’s not all rainbows and unicorns,” Rep. Steineke, who says he supports medical marijuana as long as restrictions are tight, said. “There are significant issues that come along with legalizing marijuana: increase in costs, increase in DUI incidents in those states; and as we know in Wisconsin, that’s not something we want is more drivers that are driving under the influence.”
A 2018 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute showed a correlation between increased traffic collisions and marijuana legalization.
Robinson says he understands the reluctance by the GOP, but that marijuana is still widely used in Wisconsin despite legalization.
“White people use cannabis in Wisconsin with near impunity,” he said, “while African Americans here are incarcerated for the same thing, six times the rate of white folks.”
According to a release from NORML Wisconsin, “a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than a white person, even though blacks and whites use cannabis at similar rates.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Governor Evers back in February.
“Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men,” Governor Evers said, “and drug-related offenses account for a significant proportion of those inmate populations.”
But as Wisconsin’s neighbors in the midwest begin the process of legalizing either medical or recreational marijuana, GOP lawmakers say the question of legalization is a waiting game.
“We’re going to be looking at other states and the impacts that these policy decisions have had,” Rep. Steineke said. “A place like Minnesota, which is obviously near to us, will be a good indication of how it works.”
For legalization advocates, that wait is a frustrating one.
“Wisconsin’s state motto is ‘Forward’ and yet we are standing stagnant on an issue where all of our neighbors are clearly moving ahead,” Robinson said.