Wisconsin Will Soon Become an Island Surrounded by Legal Weed
MADISON – When Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs into law a bill making way for recreational marijuana use in our neighbor to the south, his signature will put Wisconsin on an island surrounded by legal weed.
Three out of the four states that border Wisconsin — Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota — have now legalized marijuana use and two of them allow residents to purchase and consume cannabis for any reason.
While more and more state legislatures are embracing legal marijuana for medical or recreational reasons — 33 in all — Wisconsin isn’t likely to anytime soon.
Wisconsin GOP Opposes Pot Legalization
Republican lawmakers who control which bills arrive at Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk are opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana use and are split on whether the plant should be widely available for medicinal purposes.
“Some of the results of legalization in other states have been troubling,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau. “It would be wise for Wisconsin to take a more measured approach and wait to see how it plays out in other states in the Midwest before rushing any kind of legalization here.”
Have Weed, will Travel
But close access to legal marijuana will inevitably have an effect in Wisconsin. It might mean more out-of-state travel by Wisconsinites, but state tourism officials say there’s not enough data in other states to know for sure.
“At some point, Wisconsin residents may become one of the largest donors to the Illinois Tollway,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes recently joked. Illinois’ law could take effect as soon as Jan. 1.
Other States Have it. How is Wisconsin Different?
The factors that brought legalized marijuana to Wisconsin’s neighbors don’t exist here.
In Illinois, the state government is controlled by Democrats who largely favor marijuana legalization. The new tax revenue from marijuana sales also is appealing to lawmakers seeking to stabilize Illinois’ long-troubled financial situation.
“Wisconsin’s budget situation is challenging but has not been as dire as that in Illinois,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said, adding that legislative leaders have remained firm in their stance against legalization for recreational use. Leaders in the Republican-controlled state Legislature have remained quite firm in their stance against legalization for recreational use.
Minnesota’s medical marijuana program also was born out of a Democratic-controlled state government in 2014. In Michigan, voters legalized marijuana use through a ballot measure — a move Wisconsinites can’t use.
“While being opposed by some legislative leaders, the reform was enacted directly by voters,” Burden said. “This path is not available in Wisconsin, which does not permit direct democracy via ballot proposition.”
How has Michigan’s Full Legalization Affected Wisconsin?
It’s too soon to tell, Wisconsin tourism officials say. Voters in Michigan in November approved a ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state.
But “even Michigan’s Department of Tourism finds it difficult to quantify the tourism impact of becoming the (10th) state to legalize recreational marijuana,” said Craig Trost, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.
“While recreational marijuana laws are still relatively new in the tourism space, greater data year-over-year will continue to shed light on the travel impact of repealing marijuana bans,” he said.
Following legalization in other states, marijuana-themed entertainment services popped up — creating attractions for out-of-state tourists seeking the drug-like Colorado Cannabis Tours, which offers a four-day “puff and powder” ski trip in the Denver area that combines marijuana and downhill skiing with the option of adding cooking with cannabis class.
Impact on Law Enforcement
Legalization could affect the jobs of law enforcement in Wisconsin communities on the border of Wisconsin and states that have legalized pot use.
The city council of Marinette, which sits on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan, passed a law in 2017 banning marijuana sales and use regardless of what the state Legislature decides in the future following the implementation of Michigan’s medical marijuana program.
Kenosha County Sheriff’s Sgt. Christopher Hannah said his department is aware of the plans in Illinois, which borders the southern edge of his county but couldn’t predict how legalization would affect his job in the future.
“The state laws have not changed and the department will continue to enforce those state laws,” Hannah said.
Source: Journal Sentinel