Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is folding cannabis legalization into his recovery plan for the state.
Evers is hosting a series of virtual forums for Wisconsin residents to ask questions about his “Badger Bounceback agenda,” or the state’s plan for coming back from the devastations wrought by COVID-19, which ranges from infrastructure to healthcare.
On Wednesday, the forum’s focus was Justice Reform & Marijuana Legalization, during which roughly 200 participants asked the governor about racial disparities in cannabis-related enforcement, treatment, and other cannabis-related issues. Repeated topics included driving while ability impaired by cannabis, expungement, and how Wisconsin residents with cannabis convictions are blocked from accessing critical resources like housing, employment, and education.
When Evers released his budget, he proposed legalizing cannabis and regulating it like alcohol.
“Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin—just like we do already with alcohol—ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state,” Evers said in a statement when he released his budget in February. “Frankly, red and blue states across the country have moved forward with legalization and there is no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s supported by a majority of Wisconsinites.”
The budget proposes that the Department of Revenue issue cannabis retail licenses, and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would license quality control labs. Those using cannabis for medical purposes would not have to pay “retail level excise and sales taxes.”
Specifically, there would be a 15% excise tax on wholesale cannabis sales from producers (growers) to processors. At the retail level, there would be a 10% excise tax. These taxes, the budget estimates, would “generate $165.8 million in new tax revenue annually starting in fiscal year 2022-23.”
Of that revenue, 60% would go “into a newly created Community Reinvestment Fund.” So, in FY 2022-23, that is estimated to be $79.3 million. “The Governor proposes to devote a substantial portion of the excise revenue generated by the legalization of recreational marijuana to improve social equity and help underserved communities,” the budget in brief reads.
Since Evers’ budget was introduced, New York and New Mexico lawmakers passed legalization bills, and both governors signed those bills into law.
“In addition to working to correct the disproportionate impact of marijuana enforcement on communities of color within the justice system, we’re also proposing using about $80 million of new tax revenue generated by legalization to be reinvested in communities through the Community Reinvestment Fund,” Evers said at the start of the live session on Wednesday. The plan would also provide a path for people to “repeal” or reduce sentences.
Evers emphasized that the “work doesn’t end tonight,” because the budget now heads to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Wisconsin legislature for their consideration.
“We need you to contact your local representatives and let them know why you support this budget and help us get this budget over the finish line,” Evers said.
Evers went so far as to encourage people who want to push legalization forward to contact Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has proposed a narrow approach to medical cannabis that doesn’t include edibles or smoked cannabis.
“He represents us all as speaker of the Assembly. He has made himself very clear on a lot of these issues. And I would encourage you to contact him directly,” Evers said.
Beyond calling legislators, Evers suggested having conversations with people who might disagree with legalization, or just people in Wisconsinites’ everyday lives.
“I would reach out to folks in your sphere of influence, your neighbors, your relatives, and have this conversation with them, too. I think it’s very important if we want to move forward as a state,” Evers said. “We also have to be mindful that this is a group where many of you were directly impacted by the system that exists.”
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said that despite the “legislature’s failure to act,” Evers has issued more than 150 pardons. Still, “we also know that we need the legislature to partner with us as well,” Barnes said.
“We know that there are severe disparities in enforcement. It just makes sense for us to take this step,” Barnes said. “Not only are we continuing to lock people up for something that many people in other states do freely, but for the same business arrangement that has made people millionaires virtually overnight across this country. It is a waste of money, it is a waste of time, and it is completely unjust.”