Candidate choices are not the only questions being asked on the ballot in next week’s midterm election — there are two referendums for Dane County. One asks about property taxes, while the other asks voters the following: “Should marijuana be legalized, taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol for adults 21 years of age or older?” This referendum is not binding, rather it is advisory to the state legislature.
Dane County has already had two marijuana referendums, one in 2010 and one in 2014, with 75 percent and 65 percent of voters approving legalization, respectively. Obviously, nothing big in the state legislature has come from these referendums. This year, the question, or something similar, will be on ballots in 16 counties across the state.
These referendums have been put on ballots by county boards in an attempt to demonstrate to state lawmakers the public opinion on the legalization of marijuana. But how likely are lawmakers to listen? Given the previous referendums and minimal state action, it’s not so certain. Here’s the thing — lawmakers should act, especially given the benefits of legalization and support surrounding it.
Take Colorado, for instance. It was recently reported that Colorado has already exceeded $1.02 billion in marijuana sales in 2018 — its tax revenues, comprised of sales and excise taxes, licenses and fees, for 2018 is at $200 million. Colorado is currently using the first $40 million of excise tax revenue for Capital Construction Assistance through the Building Excellent Schools Today program and $31.6 million is going to the Public School Fund, totaling $71.6 million given to the Colorado Department of Education in the 2016-17 fiscal year. School funding is certainly a valiant cause, one which Wisconsin so desperately needs to help.
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Another benefit of legalization comes in the form of criminal justice. By minimizing arrests and incarcerations for minor drug crimes and possession, we can begin to limit the mass incarceration of marijuana users, specifically those belonging to marginalized groups. While black and white people use marijuana at statistically the same rate, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
This incarceration rate further exacerbates the problems of the already struggling black community, with its higher unemployment and poverty rates, rate of children born out of wedlock and single parenthood rates. One could argue that some of these issues are a direct result of the “War on Drugs,” and its disproportionate targeting of black people. Furthermore, the increased prison population leads to crowding of facilities and a debilitating financial obligation for the taxpayer — not including the cost of drug enforcement.
A third argument for legalization is a moral argument. Marijuana use is a victimless crime. The only victim is the user. The criminalization of marijuana use and possession amounts to a breach of privacy. The government has no business telling an individual what they may ingest. This applies in the same way that government may not restrict whom you associate with, whom you sleep with, how you practice religion, etc.
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For one, marijuana is less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol, yet anyone over the age of 21 may consume alcohol. For this reason alone, it is absurd that marijuana is illegal, yet alcohol is legal. The government should not focus on the private morality of marijuana use, it is beyond their purview. By limiting the choices of individuals to make their own personal choices, we fail to provide with the most basic of freedoms — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For these reasons, Wisconsin state legislators ought to consider acting to legalize marijuana sales and possession. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s about freedom, economic opportunity and criminal justice — three things that the majority of Wisconsinites agree about. So, Nov. 6, we — and our legislators — will find out where public opinion lies on marijuana legalization. But gaining an understanding of public opinion is not enough. Legislators must listen to their constituents when the majority of Wisconsinites support legalization. They ought to act, as we, the constituents, have the potential to advise them.
Andrew Stein ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and economics.