Voters in 16 counties throughout Wisconsin will have the opportunity to formally weigh in on marijuana policy this November through a series of ballot measures.
Over the past few months, organizers have pushed to get advisory questions on the ballot at the county and local levels, seeking public input on legalization. In general, voters will be asked some version of the question, “do you believe that marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol?” In other counties, the questions concern medical cannabis legalization.
Tuesday was the deadline for county clerks to approve advisory referendums, with Racine County approving a last-minute trio of cannabis questions for its ballot.
In addition to the more than dozen counties chiming in this November, at least two cities will pose similar legalization questions to voters.
According to Cannabadger, an online news site that’s been tracking marijuana referendums in Wisconsin, just under half of Wisconsin’s population lives in the counties that have approved cannabis advisory questions.
BREAKING: Racine County Board approves cannabis advisory referendum by 11-10 margin – Fifteen counties with 2.8 million residents will vote Nov. 6 on cannabis in Wisconsin! Thank You @FabiForRacine https://t.co/7Km82xn9dr #RacineCountyCannabisAdvisoryReferendum pic.twitter.com/No7H8wjWAE
— Cannabadger.com (@cannabadger) August 29, 2018
There’s nothing binding about the ballot questions, however; this process has historically served as a precursor for action by lawmakers.
In Massachusetts, for example, a number of advisory questions inquiring about marijuana legalization appeared on the 2014 ballot. Responses to those referendums showed strong support for reform—and just two years later, the state approved an adult-use legalization initiative.
Wisconsin appears to be heading down a similar path.
Of the 20 counties where legalization referendums have been considered, only five county boards have rejected the bids, generally by slim margins.
Here’s the full list of confirmed county cannabis questions:
Brown County: Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes, and regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs?
Clark County: Should the State of Wisconsin legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes and regulate its use in the same manner as other prescription drugs?
Dane County: Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older?
Eau Claire County: Should cannabis:
(a) Be legal for adult, 21years of age and older, recreational or medical use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure in Wisconsin?
(b) Be legal for medical purposes only and available only by prescription through a medical dispensary?
(c) Remain a criminally illegal drug as provided under current law?
Forest County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
Kenosha County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
La Crosse County: Should the State of Wisconsin legalize the use of marijuana by adults 21 years or older, to be taxed and regulated in the same manner that alcohol is regulated in the State of Wisconsin, with proceeds from taxes used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure?
Langlade County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
Lincoln County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
Marathon County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
Marquette County: Resolved, that “We the People” of Marquette County, Wisconsin support the right of its citizens to acquire, possess and use medical cannabis upon the recommendation of a licensed physician, and;
Be It Further Resolved, that we strongly support a statewide referendum Wisconsin to join the thirty-two (32) states that have already approved the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain, several debilitating diseases and disabling symptoms.
Milwaukee County: 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?
Portage County: Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical [treatment] purposes, if those individuals have a written [treatment] recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?
Racine County: Question No. 1: “Should marijuana be legalized for medicinal use?
Question No. 2: Should marijuana be legalized, taxed, and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older?
Question No. 3: Should proceeds from marijuana taxes be used to fund education, health care, and infrastructure?”
Rock County: Should cannabis be legalized for adult use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the Taxes used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure?
Sauk County: Should the state of Wisconsin legalize medical marijuana so that people with debilitating medical conditions may access medical marijuana if they have a prescription from a licenses Wisconsin physician?
Additionally, these cities will vote on marijuana advisory questions:
Racine: Should cannabis be legalized for adult recreational use in Wisconsin?
Should cannabis be legalized for medical use in Wisconsin?
Should cannabis sales be taxed and the revenue from such taxes be used for public education, health care, and infrastructure in Wisconsin?
Should cannabis be decriminalize in the State of Wisconsin?
Waukesha: Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes, and regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs
“Just witnessing the huge turnouts and powerful testimony at the county board hearings around the state has increased the respect that cannabis reform is getting from the media and politicians around the state,” Eric Marsch, executive director of Southeastern Wisconsin NORML, told Marijuana Moment.
“Wisconsin’s constitution doesn’t allow for binding referendums, so we’ll have to legalize through the legislature. If the legislature gets elected with a majority vote in favor of legalization, that will put a lot more pressure on them.”
It’s not clear how residents will vote at the county and city levels in November, but a recent poll from Marquette University Law School found that 61 percent of Wisconsinites favor full cannabis legalization over prohibition. Just 36 percent of respondents said they opposed legalization.
Marsch said such polling is helpful but, because it’s based on a random sample of voters, “it’s easy for the politicians to dismiss the results as simply being heavily weighted in the more liberal parts of the state.”
“By having an exact count of where voters in each district stand on the issue, it will be a lot easier to hold the legislators accountable.”
As it currently stands, Wisconsin has some of the most restrictive marijuana laws on the books. Simple possession of small amounts of cannabis can still land you in jail for up to six months.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Jersey Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization Next Year, Senate Leaders Say
New Jersey lawmakers are giving up on plans to enact marijuana legalization through the legislature and are now seeking to put the question before voters on the 2020 ballot.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) announced on Monday that while they had “made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively,” the “votes just aren’t there.” As a result, they filed a proposal that would allow residents to vote on legalization as a constitutional amendment.
“We are moving forward with a plan to seek voter approval to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey,” the leaders said in a press release. “We introduced legislation today to authorize a public referendum for a proposal that will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”
— Brian Thompson (@brian4NY) November 18, 2019
“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” they said.
The plan, which NJ.com first reported, is to have the legislature to approve the referendum proposal and get the ballot measure set for a vote in the general election next November. Sweeney and Scutari said they are “confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters.”
“We will now move forward with a plan that helps correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color,” they said. “We can make real progress towards social justice at the same time that cannabis is made safe and legal.”
Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he is “disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo—which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color—will continue.”
I am disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo – which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color — will continue.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 18, 2019
“However, I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November,” he said. “By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for.”
By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) November 18, 2019
After months of negotiation, it became apparent that that progress wasn’t going to happen legislatively in the short-term, with Sweeney indicating as early as May that legalization would likely have to be decided through a voter referendum.
Text of the resolution calling for a referendum doesn’t offer many details about what the proposed legal cannabis market would look like; rather it generally describes a system allowing adults 21 and older to use and purchase marijuana from authorized retail facilities. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission would be responsible for regulating the program. And cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax, with no additional excise tax added.
As written, the draft ballot question is worded somewhat confusingly. Voters would be asked: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”
“Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis,” it continues. “The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said in a press release that his chamber “will vote on legislation to put an adult-use cannabis question before the voters.”
— NJAssemblyDemocrats (@njassemblydems) November 18, 2019
“We plan to pass the measure this year and next in order for New Jerseyans to have the opportunity to make the decision in November 2020 when we expect voter turnout to be high due to the presidential election,” he said.
Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana celebrated news of the legislature abandoning plans to pursue legalization legislatively this session and said it would invest resources into a campaign to dissuade voters from supporting the proposed ballot initiative.
BREAKING: New Jersey State Senate abandons push to legalize marijuana during 'lame duck' session.
The marijuana industry outspent SAM 86-1 in this effort.
Our statement: pic.twitter.com/MPtI2fNIzx
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) November 18, 2019
While adult-use legalization hasn’t panned out as advocates hoped, Murphy did sign a bill significantly expanding the state’s medical cannabis program in July. Sweeney had pointed to that reform move as one reason legalization negotiations stalled.
It’s not clear how the ballot approach is going to impact discussions about regionally coordinating legalization plans in the Northeast, which has been ongoing since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) met to talk about the issue over the summer.
During a joint meeting of governors from around the region last month, Murphy said that “doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious way is good for the entirety of not just our states but our residents” and emphasized the need for social justice components in a legal cannabis market.
Read the text of the New Jersey marijuana legalization referendum resolution below:
This story has been updated to include comments from the governor and assembly speaker.
Sanders Pledges Legal Marijuana ‘In Every State’ As Biden Faces ‘Gateway Drug’ Backlash
As former Vice President Joe Biden faces a backlash over his suggestion that marijuana could be a ‘gateway’ drug, rival presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as entrepreneur Andrew Yang, are touting their own support for cannabis reform proposals
One day after Biden said he doesn’t support national cannabis legalization because there’s “not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Sanders offered a competing vision, emphasizing in a speech that he wants to “make marijuana legal in every state in the country,” rather than allow prohibition to continue in certain states.
The senator also discussed other elements of a cannabis reform plan he released last month, including his pledge to “expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana” and provide funding to promote participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
“It sounds unfair that when we legalize marijuana, you end up having a handful of corporations controlling that industry,” Sanders said during the Sunday event in Las Vegas. “We have built into our criminal justice program an effort to provide many billions of dollars in help to people in the African-American community, Latino community, other communities, the people who have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, to help them profit off a legal marijuana system.”
Watch Sanders’s marijuana comments, around 33:00 into the video below:
Sanders described his three-step plan to prevent large corporations from controlling the cannabis market during an interview on Showtime’s Desus & Mero last month.
Separately, he took to Twitter on Sunday to highlight new polling showing that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
The American people are united on issue after issue. We must legalize marijuana now—and expunge all past marijuana convictions as a matter of racial and economic justice. https://t.co/NQjp7WOko3
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 17, 2019
Meanwhile, Harris also appeared to take a direct hit at Biden over his “gateway drug” comment, stating that the debate on that matter is already settled.
Let's be clear: marijuana isn't a gateway drug and should be legalized. Glad to see my bill with Rep. Nadler take the next step in the House this week. https://t.co/d6BcMFlpYT
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 18, 2019
“Let’s be clear: marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized,” she tweeted, adding that she’s glad that a bill she and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed earlier this year to federally deschedule cannabis is scheduled for a vote in the House this week.
Harris herself has faced pushback from reform advocates and challengers who point out that the senator was involved in criminalizing cannabis consumers, and opposed legalization, during her time as a prosecutor.
Yang, for his part, presented a visual contrast to Biden on Monday, sharing photos of him smiling, surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants in an undisclosed facility.
He also wrote in a tweet that cannabis “should be legal nationwide” and linked to a campaign site page laying out his reform plan.
Marijuana should be legal nationwide. It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist. https://t.co/0Uhl17MW98
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) November 18, 2019
“It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist,” Yang said.
Biden has drawn criticism from lawmakers outside of the presidential race as well, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calling him out on Monday.
Get with the program, @JoeBiden.
Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.
The war on drugs has ruined countless lives. It's past time we end this senseless prohibition.
— Earl Blumenauer (@repblumenauer) November 18, 2019
“Get with the program, @JoeBiden,” the congressman, who has spearheaded Capitol Hill efforts to end federal prohibition, said. “Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.”
“The war on drugs has ruined countless lives,” he said. “It’s past time we end this senseless prohibition.”
Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.
AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.
The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”
Marijuana should be legalized, and drug consumption should be decriminalized.
These are matters of public health.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) November 18, 2019
This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.
To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.
There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.
Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.
But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.