At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, Gov. Tony Evers experienced what Yogi Berra — and Wisconsin voters — could say is “deja vu all over again” when he once again proposed the legalization of marijuana.
Under the governor’s proposal, marijuana would be taxed and regulated much like alcohol, and would be regulated both by the Department of Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
The proposal would require the sale of marijuana for recreational use to be sold by a marijuana retailer holding a permit issued by the DOR. Individuals would need to be 21 to purchase marijuana for recreational use. All sales of recreational marijuana to minors would be prohibited. The plan also provides a path for medical marijuana users to access the product without paying retail taxes.
Certain limits are already in place on the sale and possession of marijuana under the proposal. Wisconsin residents can possess no more than 2 ounces of marijuana and six plants for personal use. Nonresidents can possess no more than 0.25 ounces of marijuana. Under the proposal, no marijuana processor or microbusiness that operates as a marijuana processor may make usable marijuana using marijuana grown outside of Wisconsin. Evers said legalizing marijuana is expected to generate more than $165 million annually beginning in the second year of the biennium (fiscal year 2023). The governor proposes setting aside $80 million of the revenue generated by marijuana to reinvest in communities across the state through a new Community Reinvestment Fund.
Just seven minutes after Evers emailed a release about his marijuana legalization proposal, State Sen. Melissa Agard enthusiastically endorsed it in her own press release.
While Evers and Agard appear to be in their own purple haze of reality, the real life comparisons and actual analysis show their advocacy and revenue estimates are not accurate.
Consider an analysis the last time this pot pipe dream was attempted in 2019 by the Wisconsin Policy Forum. Its analysis of other states showed their revenue projections were rosy and flawed. In its first year of implementation, according to WPF, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority collected $15 million from patient license fees, $20.6 million from commercial business fees, and just $7.9 million from tax revenue. And data from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue show the state received “just over $1 million” from a 5% gross receipts tax on producers in 2018.
What is perhaps most ironic is that an Evers administration focused on maintaining public health during COVID-19 would be so focused on legalizing cannabis, a drug shown to negatively impact the mental development of young adults.
A 2019 Wisconsin Watch story about marijuana legalization in other states includes this: “States including Colorado where recreational marijuana is legal, have begun grappling with the problem of young people consuming ever more-potent cannabis in edible and other forms.”
Wisconsin Watch also referred to a 2018 report by Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice that showed the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations rose from 575 to 2,696 per 100,000 hospitalizations in 2014-15 after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.
The Centers for Disease Control — in whom many people and public health agencies place their COVID-19 faith — notes the dangers of excessive cannabis use including anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations and vomiting.
If Evers and the state’s Democrats are tying their political futures to legalizing marijuana, the facts and figures show their pipe dreams to be up in smoke.
— Sun Prairie Star