Wisconsin is in a rapidly-shrinking minority of states that have not legalized marijuana, one of only ten in the country.

Our immediate neighbors are way ahead of us. Illinois has generated $425 million in tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana, with an estimated $36 million coming directly from Wisconsin residents. Not only is the new source of funding benefiting Illinois as a whole, a portion of each dollar spent is being reinvested in communities that have been forced to do more with less.

While Michigan does not break down marijuana tax revenue by the buyer’s state of residence, Michigan collected $325 million in marijuana tax revenue overall. Dispensaries near the Wisconsin-Michigan border report about half their sales are to out-of-state customers. That tax revenue supplied $60 million to Michigan municipalities and counties in the past fiscal year and sent $70 million to both K-12 education and the Michigan Transportation Fund.

Minnesota will be the next to legalize recreational pot. Our neighbor to the west has had medical marijuana since 2014. As I write this column, both houses of the Minnesota Legislature have passed the bill to legalize recreational marijuana and the governor has pledged to sign it. This renders Wisconsin a desert island in the Great Lakes region, denied a safe and effective medicine, the tens of thousands of jobs the industry could create and a massive source of funding that could be used to improve communities here in Wisconsin.

Over two-thirds of Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization, according to an August 2022 Marquette Law School poll, yet the gerrymandered Republican majority won’t even hold a hearing on the subject.

Marijuana legalization would grow Wisconsin’s economy and help us recover from the fiscal turmoil of COVID-19. Governor Evers’ proposed budget taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol, and would generate an estimated $165 million in revenue. Close to $80 million from marijuana sales would be reinvested statewide through the Community Reinvestment Fund, with $34 million to support our smaller and more spread-out rural schools.

Legalizing marijuana is not only about the potential tax revenue. Marijuana would be a boon to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Many of our farmers are rapidly aging out of the workforce – the U.S. Census Bureau reports the average American farmer is 57 ½ years of age. It’s vital for our farm industry and land stewardship for young farmers to have new opportunities to grow with this new and lucrative crop.

It’s hard for our kids and grandkids to consider farming a viable career and a thriving lifestyle while we are stuck in the past. In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, new opportunities have attracted younger farmers to the growing and profitable industry of cultivating cannabis.

My colleague Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) often says the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal. I agree wholeheartedly, and throughout communities in my district I’ve seen cannabis prohibition does more harm than good.

Like other food, drug and alcohol products, our elected bodies determine what is legal and regulated. When we buy our food in a grocery store or alcoholic beverages in a tavern, consumers can be confident that they are buying products that have been approved and inspected for safe consumption. Marijuana legalization will create a safe product for consumers while opening doors for farmers and entrepreneurs to get involved in a well-regulated market.

There’s much to be said about the long-term health benefits of marijuana legalization. Those who use cannabis to treat chronic pain will have access to a medicine that, unlike opioids, does not lead to debilitating addiction. Those who use cannabis recreationally would be assured a safe and regulated product, free from poisonous additives.

Times and attitudes are changing, but still, the most dangerous thing about cannabis right now is that it’s illegal. Wisconsin needs to catch up to our neighboring states and create a safe market for marijuana. This plan makes sense – it’s about time the Wisconsin Legislature acts on it.

Wisconsin should take advantage of the same opportunities our neighbors have by legalizing cannabis. In doing so, we take a huge step toward modernizing our economy and strengthening our future.

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Senator Jeff Smith
About

Senator Jeff Smith has served in the State Senate since 2019. Senator Smith has worked tirelessly in his community on public education opportunities, health care access and affordability, redistricting reform, protections for water and helping people run for elected office.

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