Voters in at least 13 Wisconsin counties could have the chance to make their voices heard on marijuana legalization this November.
A swell of cannabis-related advisory referendums have cropped up across the state in recent months—and two have already qualified for the ballot. The language of the questions are more or less the same: they ask voters whether they feel the Wisconsin legislature should enact a law legalizing and regulating marijuana for adult use, medical use or both.
Advisory questions on legalization have officially qualified for the ballot in Milwaukee and Rock counties.
On Tuesday, officials in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Langlade and Sauk counties held hearings on cannabis advisory questions.
Langlade’s executive committee unanimously approved the proposed referendum, and the full board will vote on the issue next week.
The Langlade County Board's executive committee voted unanimously to forward a medical marijuana referendum resolution to their full county board for a vote next week.
— Katie Rosenberg (@katierosenberg) July 10, 2018
The La Crosse Judiciary and Law Committee also signed off on the cannabis measure in that county. Another panel there could consider the issue on Wednesday, with the full county board potentially taking a vote next week.
On Monday, the Brown County executive committee recommended putting legalization questions on the ballot. A hearing on the proposed questions saw sizable, public interest, Green Bay Press Gazette reporter Doug Schneider tweeted.
— Doug Schneider (@PGDougSchneider) July 9, 2018
Four other counties—Kenosha, Marathon, Walworth an Winnebego—are expected to hold hearings about the prospective placement of legalization questions on the November ballot later this month, and officials in Dane and St. Croix counties are also weighing marijuana advisory questions.
Advocates are approaching the advisory question movement with caution.
Wisconsin has some of the most restrictive marijuana laws on the books in the U.S. Even a small possession charge can carry penalties of up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine—and a second-time offense is considered a felony.
Support for marijuana legalization in the state, meanwhile, has been steady. Even two years ago, a poll found that 59 percent of Wisconsin residents believe the plant should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol.
A representative from a Wisconsin-based criminal justice reform group told Marijuana Moment that while the rising number of counties approving legalization advisory questions is encouraging, there’s a risk that increased attention to the movement will draw strong opposition.
Still, the advisory referendum route seemed to serve Massachusetts well.
Before the state fully legalized marijuana in 2016, advisory questions on the issue were put before voters in numerous districts across several election cycles—each showing demonstrable support for adult-use cannabis legalization. Lawmakers aren’t obliged to act based on their constituents’ votes, but the questions are designed to serve as guides for representatives.
It is reasonable to assume that if voters in several Wisconsin counties approve the nonbinding legalization referendums this November, state lawmakers will consider marijuana reform much more seriously when they convene a new legislative session in January 2019.
UPDATE: July 10, 2018 6:30 PM—This story has been updated to include information about Eau Claire County’s marijuana advisory referendum.
Read: Here’s The Final 2018 Farm Bill That Will Legalize Hemp
The final text of the 2018 Farm Bill was released on Monday, and industrial hemp legalization made the cut. Votes to send the legislation to President Trump’s desk are expected this week.
The bipartisan provision, championed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will enable U.S. farmers to cultivate, process and sell hemp, the market for which is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
Following the announcement last month that lawmakers in the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had reconciled their respective versions of the agriculture legislation—with hemp legalization in the mix—questions remained about a controversial provision in the Senate version that would ban people with felony drug convictions from participating in the hemp industry.
But a compromise was reached and the final version will allow such individuals to work for hemp businesses after 10 years.
Read the text of the final 2018 Farm Bill’s hemp provisions here, followed by explanatory statements from the conference committee:
Farm Bill Hemp Provisions by on Scribd
Marijuana Moment excerpted the above sections dealing with hemp from the full 807-page Farm Bill and committee explanatory documentation.
“While this Farm Bill is a missed opportunity, there are some good provisions,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “One of those provisions is to roll back our senseless hemp prohibition.”
“Our forefathers would be rolling in their graves if they saw us putting restraints on a versatile product that they grew themselves. We have farmers growing thousands of acres of hemp in dozens of states across the U.S. already. You can have hemp products shipped to your doorstep. This is a mainstream, billion-dollar industry that we have made difficult for farmers. It’s past time Congress gets out of their way.”
Under the legislation, hemp would no longer be in the jurisdiction of the Justice Department. Rather, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will lightly regulate the crop.
If the bill passes and President Trump signs it, hemp legalization will go into effect on January 1, according to VoteHemp.
Watch: Sen. Mitch McConnell Uses Hemp Pen To Sign Farm Bill Legalizing The Crop
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signed off on the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill on Monday…and he used a pen made of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin, hemp, to so do.
The senator has been the leading proponent of an industrial hemp legalization provision, which recently made its way into the final version of the wide-ranging agriculture legislation.
“Making it official with my hemp pen,” McConnell wrote in a tweet that includes video of him signing off on the proposal. “Proud to have served as conferee on Farm Bill & to fight for Kentucky priorities.”
Making it official with my hemp pen!🖋️ Proud to have served as conferee on #FarmBill & to fight for #Kentucky priorities. With today's signature, my provision to legalize industrial #hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to @POTUS pic.twitter.com/8ypwBebXy7
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) December 10, 2018
“With today’s signature, my provision to legalize industrial hemp is 1 step closer to reality. Looking forward to voting YES on this bill & sending to [President Donald Trump].”
The full text of the final Farm Bill legislation is expected to be publicly released on Tuesday, with votes anticipated in the House and Senate in the coming days.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
New York Governor May Include Marijuana Legalization In Budget Proposal Next Month
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) might just go ahead and include full marijuana legalization in his budget proposal set to come out next month, Crain’s reported on Monday.
Two state lawmakers told the outlet that they’d heard rumors about the governor’s plan, which would build on his recent efforts to put legalization on the table during the next legislative session. Cuomo instructed a working group to draft legalization legislation in August after the state Department of Health came out with a report that found the pros of ending cannabis prohibition outweigh the cons.
If the historically anti-marijuana governor, who as recently as last year was calling cannabis a “gateway drug,” did put legalization in his budget proposal, it’d mean “the state could have a fiscal framework for the program as soon as April,” Crain’s reported.
What exactly that fiscal framework would look like is unclear, and Cuomo’s office declined to comment on the report. It’s possible that the budget would account for the costs of whatever legislation the working group ultimately releases; however, since the bill has yet to be released and the governor’s proposal is expected for January, that might be cutting it close.
In 2014, reform advocates expressed disappointment after Cuomo and leading lawmakers agreed to a budget deal that did not include a medical marijuana legalization bill. Months later, Cuomo signed separate medical cannabis legislation and, in the years since, the governor has grown more amenable to broader reform—especially in the heat of a contentious primary battle against Cynthia Nixon this year.
When the state does go forward with legalization, money is going to be a point of particular interest for lawmakers and advocates, as can already be seen as a debate over a proposal to use cannabis sales tax revenue for public transit in New York City intensified last week.
Photo courtesy of Zack Seward.