A trio of Wisconsin lawmakers traveled across the state line to an Illinois cannabis store on Tuesday to announce the filing of new legislation to legalize marijuana for adults in their own state.
The three Wisconsin Democrats—Sen. Melissa Agard and Reps. David Bowen and Mark Spreitzer—held the event outside a dispensary in South Beloit, Illinois, which sits on the border with Wisconsin. They were joined by Beloit City Council President Clinton Anderson (D).
“All you have to do is look right that way and you’ll see the state of Wisconsin,” Agard said from the Sunnsyide cannabis shop’s parking lot, gesturing north and describing her state as “an island of prohibition.” She pointed out that a number of the vehicles in the parking lot had Wisconsin plates and shared that some of the store’s employees were in fact Wisconsin residents.
Wisconsin is one of a shrinking number of states that have not yet legalized marijuana for either medical or adult use.
“It’s past time to get this done for our communities,” Agard said, noting that only a few years ago colleagues advised her to avoid the issue as a lawmaker. “As we stand here today, it’s safe to say the landscape has changed.”
The bill would legalize, tax and regulate sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older in Wisconsin, bringing the state in line with neighboring Illinois and Michigan, where cannabis is already legal. Adult residents could possess no more than two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use, while visitors from out of state could possess no more than one-quarter ounce.
The plan also creates a path for medical marijuana patients to access cannabis products without having to pay tax. To qualify, individuals 18 and older would need to be diagnosed by a physician as having or undergoing a debilitating medical condition or treatment.
Agard noted the measure would also provide a path to expungement for people with past cannabis convictions and allow people to petition a judge for resentencing. “There are dollars available for people of color and women to be able to access capital to enter the industry, and there is a social justice fund, as well,” she said.
“This is a positive, forward thinking plan that will bring money into the state of Wisconsin,” the senator argued, adding that the policy change is projected “on the conservative side” to bring the state $165 million in annual tax revenue. “It’s time to support this industry and regulate it in an aggressive, pragmatic manner,” she added.
Agard said that she’ll work in coming weeks to build support for the reform among her colleagues regardless of their party and will be actively looking to add co-sponsors to the bill. “I’m hoping every single one of those folks will look at this bill earnestly and in detail,” she said.
Sixty percent of the tax revenue would go to reinvest in communities that have been impacted by the drug war, Agard said. The ACLU also estimates that the state will save $44.3 million in taxpayer money each year simply by ending the criminalization of cannabis.
We are at Sunnyside Dispensary in South Beloit to learn about the safety and benefits about legal cannabis! Stay tuned for the press conference at 10:30 📣 pic.twitter.com/2XC2kZqOIh
— Senator Melissa Agard (@senator_melissa) August 10, 2021
Bowen, who also spoke at the event, drew attention to the profound racial disparities experienced by people of color in terms of how the state’s marijuana and other drug laws are enforced.
The representative said Black and brown Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related offense. And during the past 10 years, he said, drug sentences for Black men have been 10 percent longer than sentences for their white counterparts.
In Wisconsin, racial disparities in arrests are even more striking than the four-to-one national rate. Black people in the state were almost six times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession despite using cannabis at similar rates.
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Some of the comments by lawmakers at Tuesday’s event echoed the exasperation of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D), who in April said he was “tired” of hearing about sales figures from his neighbor’s adult-use market and joked that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) “thanks me for having Wisconsinites cross the border to buy marijuana.”
Evers, for his part, tried to legalize recreational and medical marijuana through his proposed state budget earlier this year, but a GOP-led legislative committee stripped the cannabis language from the legislation in May. Democrats tried to add the provisions back through an amendment the next month, but Republicans blocked the move. Rep. Evan Goyke (D) urged colleagues on the other side of the aisle at the time to “stop running from this debate.”
Agard’s new bill isn’t her first time filing legalization legislation.
“The fact that I have introduced this bill for the past eight years with no public hearing is appalling,” she said in a press release on Tuesday. “It is reckless that the Republicans refuse to allow Wisconsinites to speak on this issue.”
GOP lawmakers, for their part, have filed bills to more modestly decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, but none of those proposals advanced during this year’s session.
Evers held a virtual town hall event in April where he discussed his cannabis proposal, emphasizing that polling demonstrates that Wisconsin residents back the policy change.
I was honored to join @senator_melissa, @DavidFBowen, Beloit City Council President Clinton Anderson, Rock County Board Supervisor @YuriRashkin, and other partners as we call for legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin.
— Rep. Mark Spreitzer (@RepSpreitzer) August 10, 2021
“In one of the rooms I work in at the Capitol, on the ceiling it says: ‘The will of the people is the law of the land,’” Evers said, “and I take that seriously. When people are passing referenda to say, ‘We believe that we should have recreational marijuana and/or medicinal marijuana,’ that’s what we should do as legislators and as leaders in the executive branch.”
Locally, Wisconsin voters in three jurisdictions last year approved non-binding advisory questions in favor of marijuana legalization. Those moves came after Wisconsinites overwhelmingly embraced cannabis reform by supporting more than a dozen similar measures across the state during the 2018 election.
Late last year, city officials in the state’s capital, Madison, voted to remove most local penalties for cannabis possession and consumption, effectively allowing use by adults 18 and older.
Meanwhile in Illinois, regulated sales of cannabis to adults broke yet another monthly sales record last month—the fourth time in five consecutive months. Gross receipts in the state totaled $127.8 million in July, and since March monthly sales have consistently exceeded $100 million.
Illinois officials have emphasized that the tax dollars from all of these sales are being put to good use. For example, the state announced in January that it is distributing $31.5 million in grants funded by marijuana tax dollars to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.
Read the new Wisconsin marijuana legalization bill below:
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.