Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Point-counterpoint: Marijuana legalization in Wisconsin

Most Americans are interested in legalizing marijuana, but how to go about it?
David Guenthner

In the Wisconsin gubernatorial race, there are two vastly different views on marijuana legalization. Gov. Tony Evers announced if he was reelected he would reintroduce marijuana legalization legislation while Tim Michels is opposed to the idea. Marijuana has been legalized in many states, including California, Nevada and Colorado, among others. Should Wisconsin make efforts toward legalizing marijuana or pursue other options?


Gov. Evers, in his bid for re-election as governor, has promised to put recreational marijuana legalization at the top of his political agenda. His Republican opponent Tim Michels opposes such measures, claiming legalization would be a “slippery slope.”


In Wisconsin, marijuana is designated as a Schedule I substance along with heroin and fentanyl. Penalties for simple possession can be steep — including a potential $1,000 fine and six months of prison time on a first offense. In the past five years alone, 69,203 arrests have been made for marijuana possession in Wisconsin.

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The effort to police the use of marijuana is too costly and racially disproportionate to justify. It is far time that Wisconsin joins its Midwestern neighbors — Michigan and Illinois in the full legalization of recreational marijuana. Doing so would bring the state newfound tax revenue and begin to heal communities across the state impacted by marijuana criminalization.

Evers estimates Wisconsin would see an extra $165 million in annual revenue if marijuana were to become recreationally legal. According to a statement given to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Evers plans to treat marijuana much like alcohol by regulating and taxing the substance. The state would then use the tax revenue and invest in things like public schools.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington made headlines with their decisions to legalize recreational cannabis. According to the Washington State Treasurer, over the last year, Colorado and Washington have generated more than $423 million and $559 million, respectively, in annual tax revenue from legal marijuana. With time to introduce and regulate a legal industry, Wisconsin could imagine similar figures.

Legal weed also brings revenue in the form of tourism. Colorado broke records in the number of tourists year-after-year following legalization — injecting more than $20.9 billion into the government balance. Wisconsin residents who travel out of state to buy legal cannabis will experience a reversal of migration and revenue after legalization.

Beyond the economic impacts of legal recreational marijuana, a state policy would be a move toward social justice.

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According to the ACLU, Black people are 4.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Wisconsin than white people despite similar usage rates. Legal cannabis means an end to the racially disproportionate policing of the substance. Evers’ policy plan also calls for the reduction or repeal of marijuana convictions, a move supported by the ACLU of Wisconsin.

More than two-thirds of Wisconsin voters — including a majority of Republicans — are in favor of marijuana legalization in the state according to a Marquette Law School poll. Legalizing cannabis enjoys tremendous bipartisan public support in the state.

With favorable public opinion, compelling economic data and a troubling status quo, full legalization of recreational marijuana should be Wisconsin’s next step forward.

Jack Rogers ([email protected]) is a freshman studying economics and Chinese.


Wisconsin should focus first on the decriminalization of marijuana, then move on to the issue of legalization. The difference between decriminalization and legalization is that with decriminalization all criminal charges, such as prosecution, are removed while with legalization all legal issues, both criminal and civil, are fully removed.

There is a huge racial disparity when it comes to prosecution and arrests across America related to marijuana. Though both white and Black individuals use marijuana at approximately the same rate, those who are Black are four times more likely to be arrested for the drug, according to the ACLU.

These racial disparities are also present in the state of Wisconsin. In Milwaukee, Black individuals are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession of marijuana, according to the Milwaukee County District Attorney.

The disparities can also increase by county. According to the ACLU, Black individuals are 34.9 times more likely to be arrested in Ozaukee County and 29.9 times more likely in Manitowoc County.

Though over the past few years, convictions for marijuana possession have been in steady decline in Wisconsin, these arrests and convictions can uproot a person’s life, resulting in a lost job or removal of public benefits like food stamps.

According American Progress, the route of decriminalization on a state level can involve the retroactive expunging of marijuana from the criminal records of those who were arrested or convicted, allowing them to continue their lives without a record of drug possession hanging over their head. These decriminalization efforts also can involve treating possession or use of marijuana like a traffic violation — not wholly legal but not damaging to a person’s life. This is the route Wisconsin should take.

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Full legalization of marijuana can be expensive to those who actively use the drug, resulting in the growth of black market dealings. According to the Nevada Independent, the high taxes in states who have legalized marijuana like California have made it incredibly difficult for cannabis businesses to survive. These high taxes thus make the product more expensive so those who want to use marijuana may go through unlicensed dealers, which are unregulated by the state.

According to Politico, in California alone, 823 cannabis shops are licensed and regulated by the state government while over 3,000 ‘retailers’ are unlicensed. The revenue of those unlicensed retailers totals to double that of the regulated retailers at $8 billion a year.

Essentially, while legalization of marijuana is able to remove all legal restrictions associated with the use and possession of marijuana, there are many issues with the regulation of that type of distribution.

Dane County has already decriminalized marijuana, so marijuana possession is still illegal under Wisconsin law but officers cannot arrest or convict individuals unless other circumstances are met.

Wisconsin should follow Dane County in the decriminalization of marijuana. Wisconsin should focus on removing the criminality of marijuana to alleviate some of the racial disparities in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as the expunging of previous criminal records, before prioritizing the complexity of marijuana legalization. Those who were hurt by the criminalization of marijuana should be aided before the rest of the public has full access to the drug.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in journalism.

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