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360: The proposal to legalize marijuana

Posted at 5:51 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 08:03:21-05

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is proposing a plan that would legalize Marijuana and allowing Wisconsin residents 21 years of age and up to buy and use the drug for recreational purposes and 18 years of age and older medicinally.

It's a plan he says could bring in more than $165 million in tax revenue to be put towards rural schools and the state's equity initiatives.

According to his office, it would all be regulated by both the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Under the Governor's plan, "marijuana would be taxed and regulated much like alcohol."

But is that a good idea?

To gain a full perspective, TMJ4's Ryan Jenkins is going 360. Talking to state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

In this story, you'll gain perspective from one Democrat who supports the efforts to bring in more tax revenue and decriminalize marijuana, pushing towards an opportunity to eliminate a clear racial disparity, one Republican who says he has an "open-mind," when it comes to legalizing cannabis, but wants to see more research, and also from two Wisconsin women with very different views. One who uses recreational cannabis regularly and one who is a concerned mother who worries her children could be exposed to what some call a "gateway drug." That's where we start.

Leah Noid is a local mom who is concerned about what legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin could mean for her family. She has two young sons who she says could easily be influenced and exposed to the "dangerous" drug. That's why she says before the drug is legalized, lawmakers must demand more research and look beyond the potential tax revenue.

"I want my sons to know what they're putting in their bodies," said Noid. "How will it be helpful? How will it not be? It needs to be spoken of, not just our state needs this because of monetary gain."

Republican State Representative Scott Allen of Waukesha agrees with Noid. He thinks there needs to be more research.

"The problem is that we cannot have peer-to-peer reviewed medical studies as that as a drug whether it's ethically or its side effects because it is classified as a harmful drug," he said.

That is true, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration's website.

On their Drug Scheduling page, where drugs are classified by their levels of danger, Marijuana is currently classified as a "Schedule I" drug. That means it currently has no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse. Other "Schedule I" drugs include heroin and ecstasy.

Drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and Oxycontin are all "Schedule II." That's still considered dangerous and addictive but because those drugs are able to be used medically, researchers can more easily study their effects on our bodies.

In 2019, State Representative Allen signed onto a letter to congress asking for Marijuana to be declassified so that more research can be done, particularly on its medicinal effects.

He says until that's done, he doesn't believe a budget proposal is a place to raise the discussion.

"The last thing we should do as a state is be greedy and make a decision based on the projected revenue that we might get for that. That's not the reason why we as a state should embrace or pursue a marijuana policy," said Allen.

Democratic State Representative David Bowen looks at things differently.

"We have dispensaries right on the Illinois border that are sending the most tax revenue to the state of Illinois. This Is beyond time to make sure we are having an adult conversation," said Bowen.

The tax revenue is attractive and so is the opportunity to address clear racial disparities, according to Bowen.

A study by the Wisconsin ACLU finds Black Wisconsinites nearly four times more likely to be convicted of marijuana-related charges than White Wisconsinites, despite similar trends in usage.

State Representative Bowen says police should be able to focus on bigger issues instead of being distracted by non-violent marijuana crimes in our communities.

"This is something clear that won't get in the way of us keeping our communities safe," he said.

For Catherine Spann, legal "weed" was the norm when she lived in Maryland. She recently moved to Wisconsin.

"Sometimes, it helps my anxiety. Sometimes, I use it to relax after a long day. I'm not a big 'drinker' or anything like that, I've never been a big alcohol consumer - just because I didn't like the way it made me feel, I didn't like the way it made me feel tired the next day. Luckily Cannabis allows me to relax without those major side effects," said Spann.

She says it's frustrating that she is required to travel all the way to Illinois where she ends up paying high taxes to legally buy and use cannabis. She also says as a mom, the legal consequences of possessing or using cannabis in the Badger state is unfair and worrisome.

"Its 2021, I think a lot of people already partake in cannabis and have to do it in privacy," she said.

A 2019 Marquette University Law Poll found that nearly 60% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of Marijuana.

Wisconsin's neighboring states, Illinois and Michigan both have legal recreational and medicinal "pot." Minnesota has a medicinal marijuana program.

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