The open pastures of Wisconsin may be getting a whole lot greener.
After decades of demonization, marijuana is now either legal or decriminalized in 23 states, and business is booming. Legal recreational pot is a multi-billion dollar industry. And there’s still a lot of money to be made even in states where it’s only been legalized medically. Now Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, renowned cool guy, wants to get in on that action.
In the next state budget, Evers will propose decriminalizing marijuana, in addition to legalizing it for medical purposes. It comes as part of an overhaul of the state’s marijuana laws that could see people with possession convictions (in small amounts) get their records expunged. And honestly, it’s hard to see the downside in any of this.
“This is not just about access to health care,” Evers said in a Monday morning press conference. “This is about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity.”
Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for Black men, and drug-related offenses make up as much as 75-85% of inmate populations.
By decriminalizing marijuana, we’ll begin to address racial disparities and cycles of poverty in communities across our state.
— Governor Tony Evers (@GovEvers) February 18, 2019
In strictly financial terms, it could be a huge win for a state mired in the fallout of the Foxconn debacle. Medical marijuana has the potential to net states millions of dollars, revamping economies with every toke of the devil’s lettuce. Our neighbors in Michigan, for example, have made over $600 million since legalizing medical marijuana in 2008. (They also legalized it recreationally in 2018.) Even Minnesota, which only legalized medical weed in 2014, has already made almost $10 million.
This is money that would pump directly back into the state, too. As part of his proposal, Evers specifies that the weed sold in Wisconsin must be grown in Wisconsin. This could help our consistently low rankings in job growth via a surge in agricultural jobs, plus staffing for dispensaries required to sell the stuff.
And this doesn’t even begin to cover the immediate relief medical marijuana would provide for people living with PTSD, ALS, and any of the other abbreviated maladies frequently treated with medical weed.
But perhaps most heartening in Evers’ proposal is the plan to expunge the records of people with convictions for possession in small amounts. For a long time, our state has disproportionately incarcerated people (13% for black men, double the national rate). And it has a broken parole system that sees jails flooded with people booked on trivial violations. Deregulation means fewer people in prison for doing something that people in the Sin Cities — a.k.a. Minneapolis and St. Paul — can do out in the open.
Wholly unsurprisingly, Evers’ plan is expected to be met with strong opposition from Republicans. Assembly Speaker Robin “Midwestern Ted Cruz” Vos calls it “a slippery slope where there’s pot on every corner.” But of course, back in 2017, when Scott Walker was still governor, Vos said that he was “open” to the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana.
Wisconsin’s voters, on the other hand, showed overwhelming support in November for a plan to legalize pot either for medical or recreational use, with more than a million people voting in favor of it. But as we’ve seen in the past, the state GOP doesn’t really give a shit about the will of the voters. It’d be a lot cooler if they did.