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Wisconsin governor proposes legalizing marijuana in his budget proposal

If it passes, two of Minnesota's neighbors will have legalized recreational marijuana.
Marijuana, cannabis

Wisconsin's governor is proposing legalizing marijuana as part of his state budget proposal, in an effort to bring in more money for the state.

According to a Sunday news release, Gov. Tony Evers proposes making marijuana legal for people 21 and older, saying it would generate more than $165 million a year starting in Fiscal Year 2023.

“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin — just like we do already with alcohol — ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” Evers said in a statement. “Frankly, red and blue states across the country have moved forward with legalization and there is no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s supported by a majority of Wisconsinites.”

In his 2021-23 biennial budget proposal, Evers says legalizing recreational marijuana would increase revenue, create jobs, and reduce criminal justice system costs, while also providing a path for those suffering from chronic pain and illness to utilize the medicine they need (medical marijuana isn't legal in Wisconsin either).

If lawmakers approve legislation legalizing marijuana, Wisconsin would join 15 other states, including another one of Minnesota's neighbors in South Dakota, that have made recreational weed legal. Lawmakers in Minnesota have again a proposed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, but some Republicans are against it so it's unclear if it will get done this year. 

That's what's expected to happen in Wisconsin, too. Republicans control the state Legislature and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports they are expected to block the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, but "it's possible" the GOP would approve legislation that legalizes medical marijuana. 

Thirty-six states have medical marijuana programs, including all the states that border Wisconsin (Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan, with Illinois and Michigan having legalized recreational marijuana, too), the paper says. 

Evers in his 2019-2021 biennial budget proposal proposed legalizing medical marijuana, but Republicans rejected it, the release says. But now, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said during a January forum that he supports medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana, Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel tweeted.

The governor says legalizing marijuana will generate more than $165 million annually starting in 2023. Here's what he's proposing the state does with this new revenue: 

  • $80 million to reinvest in communities through a new Community Reinvestment Fund, which would fund $30 million in equity grants starting in 2023 through the Department of Health Services, the Department of Administration, and the Department of Children and Families.
  • $5 million to fund grants to underserved communities through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
  • $34 million to support sparsity aid, which goes to small, rural school districts.
  • The remaining funds, about $46 million, would go to the state's General Fund. 

How it would be regulated

Evers proposes regulating marijuana like how the state regulates and taxes alcohol, so both the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would be involved. 

It would require the sale of marijuana for recreational use to be sold by a marijuana retailer holding a permit issued by the Department of Revenue. And marijuana processors are not allowed to make usable marijuana with marijuana that's grown outside of Wisconsin.

People would need to be 21 years or older to buy marijuana for recreational use, with sales to minors prohibited.

Wisconsin residents wouldn't be allowed to possess more than 2 ounces of marijuana and six plants for personal use, while nonresidents wouldn't be allowed to possess more than 0.25 ounces of marijuana.

Meanwhile, the proposal would also provide a path for medical marijuana users to get marijuana without paying retail taxes.

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