Legal marijuana began on the coasts but shows every sign of taking root in the heartland.
September 25, 2018 3 min read
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Debate about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization doesn’t really tell the story on where American voters are on the issue. And even polls – most of which now show a majority of Americans support legalization – do not provide political leaders with definitive, actionable information.
But now some places have taken a new approach: voter advisory referendums. Counties and cities in Wisconsin have bought into the area in a big way.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities will get a chance to vote their opinion on whether to legalize cannabis. While the vote is not binding, it will provide the state’s political leaders a clear indication where voters stand.
It’s a vote worth watching for marijuana supporters. Wisconsin has become a swing state in national elections, and it can also provide a bellwether on the current support for marijuana legalization.
High Hopes for Marijuana Supporters
The hope for marijuana legalization supporters is that the referendums will provide clear direction to the state Legislature. If voters voice approval of marijuana legalization, it could lead to new laws that allow cannabis use.
Wisconsin currently does not allow medical or recreational marijuana.
Where it could lead depends on what supporter you ask. For example, Rep. David Bowen, a Democrat from Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal that approval of legalization in the referendums should at least lead to a similar, statewide advisory referendum.
However, state Rep. Melissa Sargent, a Democrat from Madison, said approval of legalization in the multiple referendums – which she believes will happen – will open the door to her introducing legislation that will legalize marijuana.
“The most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal,” she told the Journal Sentinel, referring to black market that flourishes when weed is illegal.
So far in Wisconsin, support for marijuana among elected leaders has largely split along party lines. Democrats are for it, Republicans against.
If that is representative of the people themselves, the referendums could prove close. Republican Donald Trump narrowly won the state in the 2016 election. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has split the state’s voters.
However, there are devils in the details. For example, the advisory referendums in four of the larger counties — Milwaukee, Dane, La Crosse and Rock — will ask voters’ opinion on recreational use. But 10 other counties are asking only about medical marijuana legalization.
Eau Claire and Racine counties will ask about both. The city of Racine will also ask its voters about both, while the city of Waukesha will only ask about medical marijuana.
These distinct types of questions scattered on ballots throughout the state could lead to debate over the results, whatever they turn out to be.
Cook County in Illinois, home to Chicago, already took the advisory referendum step earlier this year. Asked for their opinion on legalizing marijuana for recreational use on a ballot referendum, 63% of voters there supported legalization.