Wisconsin Marijuana Legalization: The Cheese (State) Stands Alone

When it comes to recreational marijuana legalization, Wisconsin now stands as the lone holdout in a region of states where voters (or state lawmakers) have decided to make it legal to buy, possess and use legal cannabis.

Wisconsin marijuana legalization It’s a situation that has led lawmakers to reconsider their anti-cannabis stance, especially given the fact that adjacent states such as Illinois and Michigan are raking in big bucks for tax coffers.  Both states also have found ways to use marijuana tax funds for community-building initiatives.  They also have created an environment where local entrepreneurs are trying out different approaches with some interesting results.

In the meantime, Wisconsin continues to prohibit the use of recreational marijuana. With Minnesota now approving legal recreational drugs, Democrats in Wisconsin are reevaluating the state’s drug policies. They’re also recognizing the potential tax revenue that Wisconsin might be missing out on.

“Knowing that Wisconsinites are getting in their cars, taking time out of their lives to drive to these states and spending their hard-earned dollars in these states and invigorating a tax base and the economy in other communities — I know Wisconsinites would prefer to spend their money here,” said Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Surrounded by Legal Marijuana States

Wisconsin now finds itself entirely surrounded by states allowing some form of cannabis consumption, with Michigan being the first in the Midwest to legalize in 2018. Following suit, Illinois and now Minnesota have also legalized recreational marijuana, while Iowa allows for medical consumption.

According to estimates from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, tax revenue from marijuana sales could reach approximately $110 million by 2027, according to the Journal.

In 2022, Illinois dispensaries raked in over $1.5 billion in cannabis sales. Notably, about 15% of these sales originated from dispensaries in counties bordering Wisconsin – analysis suggests that out-of-state residents made half of these sales. Wisconsinites also contributed around $36 million to the $462 million in tax revenue that Illinois generated from cannabis sales in the fiscal year 2022.

It may be some time before Wisconsinites start regularly traveling to Minnesota to purchase cannabis, as dispensaries can’t open until the state establishes a licensing system, which is still at least two years away. However, tribal governments in Minnesota have already started sales, including the Red Lake Nation.

Reasons For Wisconsin Marijuana Legalization

Wisconsin has plenty of reasons other than its neighboring states to legalize cannabis. As lawmakers and voters in many other states have learned in the past decade, there are numerous advantages to legalizing cannabis.

Tax Revenue Generation. As noted above, legalizing and regulating the sale of recreational marijuana can create a new source of tax revenue for the state. This revenue can be used to fund various public services and programs.

Economic Growth and Job Creation. The marijuana industry can stimulate economic growth by creating new businesses, generating employment opportunities, and supporting related industries such as agriculture, transportation, and retail.

Reduction in Law Enforcement Costs. Legalization can lead to a reduction in law enforcement expenses related to marijuana-related offenses, including arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration. Law enforcement agencies also can redirect resources towards addressing more serious crimes, rather than focusing on low-level marijuana offenses.

Regulation and quality control. Legalization allows for the regulation and quality control of marijuana products. This helps ensure that consumers have access to safe and consistent products. It can help reduce the risks associated with black-market products. Regulated markets can implement safety standards for cultivation, processing, and distribution.

Medical benefits. Recreational legalization can provide easier access for individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes, even in states where medical marijuana programs exist.

Individual freedom and civil liberties. Advocates argue that adults should have the right to make their own decisions regarding marijuana use, similar to alcohol or tobacco. Legalization also can be part of broader efforts to address social equity and criminal justice issues. This may include expunging prior marijuana-related convictions and reinvesting in communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

Wisconsin marijuana legalization is an issue lawmaker in the state will likely grapple with in the coming years. But with the potential positives associated with legalization, as well as their neighboring states already taking the leap, they have more incentive than ever to give the matter serious consideration.

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