Wisconsin increasingly isolated as neighbors progress on marijuana policy
Last update: October 6, 2021
Wisconsin is lagging behind the times on marijuana policy reform. While neighboring Michigan and Illinois have legalized marijuana for adults’ use, and Minnesota has a medical cannabis program, Wisconsin remains stubbornly behind the times. It is one of only 18 states that still imposes jail on simple possession of cannabis, and one of only 14 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) would like to lead the state to a more sensible policy. In 2018, his first-ever proposed budget as governor included removing all penalties from cannabis possession, expungement, and a comprehensive medical cannabis program. Unfortunately, the Joint Finance Committee removed the medical cannabis provisions from the proposed budget — with every Republican member voting to scrap the compassionate program.
This year, Gov. Evers included both medical cannabis and legalization in his proposal again. However, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) made it clear neither would make it through his Senate. He said, "We don’t have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) has been more open personally, but said of the Assembly Republican caucus, "it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus."
More than half of Wisconsin’s population saw cannabis-related measures on their ballots in 2018, and every single one of the measures passed. Medical cannabis questions received between 67% and 89% in the 11 counties and two cities where they appeared. Adult-use questions garnered between 60% and 76% of the vote. Meanwhile, a 2019 poll found 83% of Wisconsin voters support medical cannabis and 59% support legalizing cannabis for adults.
It’s important lawmakers hear their constituents care about humane, sensible cannabis policies. Write your lawmakers on one of these issues:
In early 2020, the ACLU released an updated national report on unequal marijuana enforcement nationwide and state-by-state. Its A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformfound that in 2018, Black individuals were 4.2 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people in Wisconsin, despite similar use rates. This made the state the 14th worst in terms of racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.
While legalization does not eliminate unequal enforcement, it dramatically reduces the total number of arrests. Five of the seven states with the lowest disparities were states with legalization laws.
Medical marijuana update
Wisconsin has become an anomaly when it comes to compassionate medical cannabis legislation. Thirty-six other states, including deep red states like Utah, Alabama, North and South Dakota, and Arkansas, have enacted effective medical marijuana programs. But in Wisconsin, the only progress that has been made is a very limited law focused on a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, CBD.