Supervisor Weishan seeks November marijuana referendum

Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan is seeking a November 6  referendum on leglaizing recreational marijuana for adults. 

The question would be straightforward: "Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also  regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?

Legislation introduced in the state legislature to decriminalize or legalize marijuana went nowhere in the last session.

The advisory referendum would allow county voters to express their opinion about legalization, but would not be legally binding.

Weishan introduce a resolution this week asking the county board to authorize the referendum.

"Criminalizing marijuana use has failed to curb its use and more than 100 million Americans say they have used marijuana," the resolution says.

"I believe it's time that we recognize that marijuana is not the gateway drug that they have portrayed it as in the past and that ... the best way to address the issue is not to criminalize marijuana, but to make it a legally regulated product for people to use responsibly," Weishan said Tuesday. "I think that is the best way, whether it is alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana, that it be legal to adults and regulated by the state."

Some 59% of Wisconsinites said in a 2016 poll that marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol, the resolution says, and "recent polls show a majority of Americans favor legalization of adult regular recreational use of marijuana."

Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have already legalized adult personal use of marijuana, while Vermont and the District of Columbia have legalized limited personal possession and cultivation of marijuana, the resolution says.

Legalizing and taxing marijuana could significantly increase state and local revenue, according to the resolution. A Congressional Research Service report estimates that legalizing and taxing marijuana could bring in $6.8 billion in federal excise taxes alone.

"The time law enforcement spends enforcing existing marijuana laws and ordinances negatively impacts the time available to solve more serious crimes and apprehend more dangerous criminals, the resolution says.

The existing prohibition and lack of regulation "makes product quality control and sales regulation impossible, leaving marijuana sellers free to target children as potential costomers and to peddle potentially adulterated products."

In addition, it said, "felony second offense marijuana charges are disproportionately issued against African-American males in Milwaukee County, continuing a pattern of racially biased justice system outcomes with lifelong negative impacts on those convicted and on their families."

In Milwaukee County, African Americans are almost nine times as likely as whites to be charged with felony second offense marijuana possession in criminal cases where that is the only charge filed. Most of the arrests in those cases are made in the city of Milwaukee north of I-94.

Nationally, whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates.

Second offense possession of marijuana in any amount is a felony under state law.

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