By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Eight years ago, Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) introduced a bill on the senate floor to legalize cannabis in Wisconsin. The bill received little support, but during a press conference at Sunnyside Dispensary in South Beloit, IL, Agard reintroduced it.
“We know that Wisconsin is ready for legalization,” she said. “It is time for Wisconsin to do what we need to do; to realize that prohibition has failed our state and it is past time to get this done for our communities.”
Agard continued, “Legalizing and taxing cannabis in Wisconsin, just like we already do for alcohol, ensures a safe and controlled market for our communities. Legalizing cannabis ensures that there are safe products available for our friends, families and neighbors.”
Legalization of cannabis would give Wisconsin a chance to invest in, reinvest in and lift up communities to ensure an equitable and just state, she said. It is time for a statewide discussion on this policy.
“Prohibition has not worked when it comes to alcohol, it did not work when it came to margarin and it is not working when it comes to cannabis,” Agard said, adding that prohibition means Wisconsin is being left behind.
During the press conference, Agard discussed three reasons why this policy needs to move forward. Legalization would address pass wrongs regarding racial disparities and start acting with an equity lens.
Legal cannabis is projected to generate $165 million in revenue, and about $80 million would go toward communities that have been the most impacted by Wisconsin’s outdated policies, she said.
Secondly, cannabis could help family farms that have been struggling for decades, she said. Legalization could bring farmers and Wisconsin’s agricultural industry into the 21st century.
Lastly, cannabis would help boost the economy.
“Cannabis is a powerful economic stimulus,” she said.
“The most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin is that it remains illegal,” Agard said. “We should be leading this conversation rather than following it. It’s not a matter of if this is going to happen in Wisconsin but a matter of when.”
Agard said that her team was sending out a co-sponsorship memo asking for support from her fellow legislators.
Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) and Clinton Anderson, the Beloit Council President, also spoke during the press conference.
Bowen said that since his election, his main policy goal has been reducing and eliminating racial disparities in Wisconsin from education to criminal justice to health care and everything in between.
The war on drugs and the state’s current policies has disproportionally impacted communities of color, he said. Black and brown people are more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in Wisconsin, he said.
The policies are turning neighbors into criminals, Bowen said.
“The war on drugs has done nothing to curb drug use but has continued to criminalize being Black,” he said. “I am proud once again to support this bill, which will be a huge step forward in reversing these racial disparities and approaching drug and criminal justice policies through an equity lens.”
Wisconsin is becoming an island, Spreitzer said, as the surrounding states approve legalization.
“However, you personally feel about cannabis use, keeping it illegal isn’t helping anything, it’s only hurting,” he said. “The people of Wisconsin, the people that we represent, they’re ready to legalize. It’s past time for the legislature to act.”
Failing to legalize cannabis is hurting Wisconsin, Agard said.
“This bill reflects the will of the people,” she said. “This is a positive forward-thinking plan that will bring money into the State of Wisconsin…It’s pragmatic, it’s common sense and it’s time to take action.”