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.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.