For years, Democrats in Wisconsin have tried to pass some form of cannabis legalization. But a Republican-dominated state house always foiled their efforts. As a result, Wisconsin remains one of just 17 states without any form of legal cannabis. In 2019, Republicans still control the Wisconsin legislature. But for the first time in eight years, the state has a Democratic governor, Tony Evers. And in a meeting with Wisconsin Technology Council board members on Tuesday, Gov. Evers responded favorably to questions about his views on marijuana legalization. The governor said he personally supports full, adult-use legalization. At the same time, Evers said he doesn’t want to rush the process.
Wisconsin Gov. Expresses Personal Support for Full Cannabis Legalization
On Tuesday, newly elected Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers was speaking to members of the Wisconsin Technology Council, when the topic turned to marijuana. Milwaukee lawyer Alexander Pendleton posed the question of legalization to Gov. Evers. Wispolitics.com reports that Pendleton framed the issue as having to do with criminal justice and state budgetary concerns. Evers agreed, saying “marijuana connects all the dots.”
Gov. Evers went on to say that he “personally would sign” an adult-use legalization bill. But he specified the need “to make sure we do it correctly.” Based on Evers’ comments, “correctly” appears to mean starting with medical legalization, then moving toward a statewide referendum on full legalization.
Gov. Evers Says “First Step” is Budget Proposal Medical Legalization
Gov. Evers said his first steps would be to work toward medical cannabis legalization. And to do that, he has to put a proposal to do so in his 2019 budget plan. In Wisconsin, the governor’s budget plan typically initiates a debate among lawmakers about the state’s two-year spending priorities. Any “first step” would thus require submitting a proposal to create and fund a medical cannabis program to lawmakers’ consideration. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republic, has a record of opposing even moderate medical cannabis legislation.
Taking a longer view, Gov. Evers said that his administration would likely call for a voter referendum on the question of full legalization. It’s a solid strategy, considering likely opposition from legislators. A solid majority of Wisconsin voters are in favor of adult-use legalization, and an even larger margin support legal medical cannabis. Some Wisconsin cities have already passed resolutions backing any state effort to end prohibition.
Can Wisconsin Avoid Corporate Takeover of Cannabis?
In addition to signaling his support for full legalization and announcing his plans to budget medical legalization, Gov. Evers also revealed some details about the kind of adult-use industry he would like to see established in Wisconsin. Evers expressed an interest in learning from the “cautionary tales” of other adult-use states. He pointed to Washington, where “hundreds of mom and pop” cannabis shops have been run out of business by giant cannabis companies. And he pointed to Colorado, where “very few people are actually making money” in the industry because of the state’s tax structure.
Evers said he wants to see Wisconsin’s cannabis industry go down a different path, one that benefits the people of Wisconsin and small businesses. “I think the last thing the people of Wisconsin want as it relates to marijuana is it eventually devolves in Pfizer running things.” The governor also emphasized the need to protect small businesses who want to enter the legal cannabis industry. “I want it to be set up in a way that people in the state of Wisconsin feel comfortable that they can make some money by doing this work without having to essentially go broke,” Evers said.