MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted to approve a marijuana referendum for placement on the November ballot.
The referendum will ask Milwaukee County voters if the state should legalize adult-use marijuana – as well as if the state of Wisconsin should regulate and tax commercial marijuana sales and distribution. Fifty-nine percent of the people registered to vote in the state say that marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol.
The advisory-only referendum would not automatically legalize marijuana if approved by voters, but the election results are expected to significantly influence state lawmakers. The referendum question asks if marijuana should be legal for adults 21 years of age and older, the same age as alcohol. The memorandum was approved in a vote of 15 to 1, with supervisor Patti Logsdon casting the no vote.
Milwaukee County Board Supervisor John Weishan Jr. sponsored the measure and said that the referendum is the only way to convince the State Legislature to act on legalizing marijuana.
Weishan said that the Legislature has not yet acted to decriminalize the drug even though there have been proposed bills to do so and the majority of voters support legalization. He added that the state should take full advantage of the benefits of marijuana taxation just as other states have successfully done. Washington D.C and 9 states have legalized recreational marijuana.
Supervisors Voice Concerns with Disproportionate Arrests of African-Americans for Marijuana
Supervisor Willie Johnson Jr. said black males are arrested at a much higher rate than others, adding that imprisonment rates for marijuana possession are also disproportionate. The ACLU reports that Black people are arrested for minor marijuana possession nearly 4 times the rate of Caucasians.
Supervisor Anthony Staskunas voiced his frustrations about the penalty for second-time pot-possession offenses resulting in felony charges. Having a record can prevent people from obtaining an education, employment, housing, and loans.
Several Politicians Support Legalization
Wisconsin Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) supports legalization and introduced a bill last February that would bar employers from making employees take mandatory drug screenings that test for marijuana use.
Mahlon Mitchell is a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and also the President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Mitchell says that he supports legalizing marijuana but believes an immediate first step should be to decriminalize the drug.
Former Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn and activist Mike McCabe are also both candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and say they support marijuana legalization.
While speaking at the 8th annual March for Cannabis, organized by the Wisconsin National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Flynn said that if he were elected governor of the state that he would pardon everyone in jail for nonviolent marijuana possession.
McCabe has said that legalizing marijuana would benefit society by providing safety for consumers with regulation as well as earning the state revenue from pot taxes.
McCabe said that the state could earn more than $200 million annually from taxing marijuana and that the state would also save money by not contributing to mass incarceration, adding that the state budget allots more money for prisons than it spends on the whole of the university system.
If the referendum passes and the state Legislature acts on the will of the voters, Wisconsin could be the 10th state to legalize cannabis.