Marijuana Reform

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MTT News's picture
By: 
Michelle Phillips

One thing I learned early on when coming to the Madison area is that there are a lot of pot smokers around here. I remember driving around last summer and smelling the sweet-scented smoke wafting from a window or yard every few blocks.

I also wrote a story early on at the Times-Tribuneabout medicinal and recreational bills introduced to the Wisconsin legislature last year. Most notably, I talked to Melissa Sergeant, who has introduced several bills with the intent of legalizing the widely used plant. It failed last year. Not one to give up, apparently, she introduced another recreational legalization bill in May of this year–the fourth she has presented.

The bill probably doesn’t have the legs to get off the ground as most Republican legislators have remained strictly opposed to the idea of full legalization, and only support heavily restricted medicinal use, also illegal in the state. 

With recreational cannabis legal in Michigan and soon Illinois, and the drug decriminalized in Minnesota, one can’t help but think that the state is missing out on the tax dollars that cannabis sales take in. For example, Colorado, the first to legalize the plant in 2014 after voters passed Amendment 64 in 2012, has taken in over $1 billion in taxes and fees, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The vast majority of the money brought in goes to public safety, schools and human services. 

Crime, especially DUI for marijuana, is a big concern for states legalizing the drug. Keeping with Colorado as the example because of the longevity of the law and most comprehensive data collection, the Colorado Department of Justice saw a 15 percent decrease in overall DUIs in the state between 2014 and 2018. In addition, marijuana impairment DUIs remained steady at seven percent. Enforcement of black-market marijuana arrests increased, but the report cites the increased focus on black market marijuana as well as an increase of officers hired to enforce the law, a 66 percent jump.

Although fatal traffic accidents decreased for those under the fluence of Delta-9 THC, responsible for marijuana’s psycho-active effect, from 11.6 percent to 7.5 percent,  among those with any cannabinoid in their system, fatalities rose from 11 percent to 22 percent.

The amount of marijuana mailed from the state has also increased. The United States Postal Service reported 15 packages containing a total of 57 pounds in 2010, and 1009 parcels amounting to 2001 pounds in 2017.

Another concern has been use among teens now that marijuana is legal. The study found that marijuana use among teens went down and the number of students who reported smoking marijuana at least once remained the unchanged.  Additionally, those who reported using marijuana before the age of 13 dropped from 9.2 percent in 2015 to 6.5 percent in 2017. Alcohol was the most widely used drug at 59 percent, followed by e-cigarettes at 44 percent. Marijuana came in third at 35 percent.

In Illinois, legalization will take place in January 2020, and with Rockford just 75 miles away from Madison, I suspect the state will be getting plenty of business and tax revenue from its neighbor to the north, but what will be the consequences for our state? I had difficulty finding data on surrounding states, concerning marijuana use, so it is hard to know. 

Kansas, which is also an island when it comes to legalizing, is surround by states with both recreational and medicinal forms of the drug. It does not track the number of arrests for marijuana possession or arrests, nor does it keep track of the origin of seizures to find if they have come from other states. 

Not only do states take in taxes from the sale of the drug, but also from tourism. In Colorado you can stay at a resort that caterers to marijuana smokers and offers a “bar” of different marijuana strains to choose from. In Michigan you can do a “puff and powder” weekend that combines skiing and marijuana. 

Maybe it is time for Wisconsin to jump into this century, after all, 33 states have legalized either recreational or medicinal marijuana, but Wisconsin allows neither. Lt .Gov. Mandela Barnes quipped earlier in the summer, “At some point, Wisconsin residents may become one of the largest donors to the Illinois Tollway.”

 

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