Wisconsin Woes of LRB-4361: The Uphill Battle to Legalize Marijuana

Undeterred from past failures to pass legislation legalizing marijuana in her state, Wisconsin State Senator Melissa Agard is trying once again with LRB-4361. As reported by The Cap Times, Agard, flanked by Reps. David Bowen and Mark Spreitzer, supporters of the legislation, “. . . presented legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in the parking lot of the Sunnyside dispensary in South Beloit, Illinois — just 1,000 feet from the state line.” 

The location of the announcement was strategic because Agard and her supporters are pointing out that Wisconsin is surrounded by states that allow some form of legal marijuana usages. As Agard put it, “All you have to do is look right that way and you’ll see the state of Wisconsin, an island of prohibition.”

State Senator Melissa Agard rallies for LRB-4361 in the parking lot of Sunnyside, an Illinois marijuana dispensary Source: wisconsinexaminer.com

State Senator Melissa Agard rallies for marijuana legalization in the parking lot of an Illinois dispensary.  According to the website Marijuana Moment, the proposed legislation would address multiple issues: “Agard’s bill would legalize, tax and regulate sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older in Wisconsin, bringing the state in line with neighboring Illinois and Michigan, where cannabis is already legal. Adult residents could possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use, while visitors from out of state could possess no more than one-quarter ounce.” 

Building on the notion of prohibition as a failed social policy, Agard stated, “Prohibition has not worked when it comes to alcohol. It did not work with margarine, and it’s not working when it comes to cannabis.” The senator also seized the moment to point out the practical aspects of marijuana legalization, stressing, “This is a positive, forward-thinking plan that will bring money into the state of Wisconsin,” and is projected “on the conservative side” to bring the state $165 million in annual tax revenue. “It’s time to support this industry and regulate it in an aggressive, pragmatic manner.”

She further argued that “People can, as I am right now, drive for 45 minutes from Madison across the border and legally purchase, walk into a dispensary and have access to cannabis. Those are hard-earned tax dollars that are leaving our state and going into Illinois,”

And, in accordance with the social justice aspects of marijuana legislation from other states, especially Connecticut, Agard stated, “There are dollars available for people of color and women to be able to access capital to enter the industry, and there is a social justice fund, as well.” 

However, it appears that Agard and her colleagues will have a steep uphill battle to push this legislative initiative through the Wisconsin legislature. According to WHBL, “ . . .Senator Devin LeMahieu says Wisconsin should wait for FDA action before approving medical use and opposes recreational marijuana, while neither Representative Terry Katsma of Oosburg nor Tyler Vorpagel of Plymouth have supported any legislation to approve cannabis on any level, instead voting along with other Republicans to stop Wisconsin, for now, from agreeing with its neighbors.”

Rep. Mark Spreitzer defended the legislation, saying, “The people of Rock County, just minutes across the border there, have shown strong support for legalizing cannabis. In a November 2018 referendum, nearly 70% of Rock County residents voted in favor of legalizing and regulating cannabis.” Agard also has the support of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers who has a plan to regulate and tax it in a way similar to alcohol in his state budget proposal.

In reality, this is not the first or even the second attempt on Agar’s behalf to push through marijuana legalization in Wisconsin. In fact, this is Agars 8th attempt to get her legislative efforts realized, which has faced strong opposition from her Republican colleagues. But Agar acknowledged the long-term strategy at play, saying, “Here in Wisconsin, I am proud to have introduced the first full legalization bill in our state’s history back in 2013 when I was a member of the State Assembly. I have introduced this bill every session since then and we continue to gather additional support each year.”

Moreover, Agar does have allies in the Wisconsin legislature. According to Jay Selthofner, a medical marijuana activist and reporter of Wisconsin and Michigan Hemp News, there is significant support for legalizing marijuana on some level. Selthofner notes that Kelda Roys (D – Madison), is a vocal supporter who has previously stated, “Adults should be free to use marijuana without fear of prosecution. We need to stop using our criminal justice resources to prosecute and incarcerate people for cannabis use. We can earn revenue, increase Wisconsin’s agricultural economy, and help stop the unequal enforcement that drives racial disparities in our criminal justice system. It’s time to legalize cannabis for recreational and medicinal use, and grow Wisconsin’s economy.”

But Selthofner is not naïve about the ultimate fate of the proposed legislation. Instead, he had these words: “What we do know is that the Democrat cannabis legalization bill has medical marijuana components in it and indicators from the few friendly Republican cannabis elected officials is that they will not support this bill, citing too high of tax and also differences in how to use the tax generated from this.” 

Yet Agard is tenacious, pushing her fellow legislators for support: “I am hopeful that we will see a vote on [the bill] during this session of Congress, and I encourage our entire Wisconsin delegation to vote in support of the bill.”


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