This fall, residents in Brown County, Wisconsin, will have an opportunity to tell state officials if they want to legalize medical marijuana or not, but the referendum will not include a question about recreational pot. On Wednesday, a debate of the oft-spirited County Board attracted roughly 200 folks to Green Bay City Hall. Nearly 60 people addressed the board over nearly five hours.
Around midnight, the board voted 16-10 in favor of holding an advisory referendum this November, asking residents if they want cannabis to be legal for medical purposes if regulated the same way as other prescription drugs. Supervisors rejected a second question regarding the use of weed recreationally. The referendum will not change the law, but it will let legislators know how voters feel.
The votes came after some impassioned pleas from residents. Most spoke favorably of holding a referendum, and many said they or their loved ones had benefited enormously from using marijuana to treat chronic pain and the side effects of cancer treatment. “My husband is dying of cancer,” said Michelle Neary from Green Bay, who says that chemotherapy caused him to lose around 55 pounds.
“Doctors gave him a lot of pain medication, but it does not do anything,” Neary continued. “Marijuana has saved my husband.” However, an orthopedic surgeon had reservations. She said that legalized pot could result in other issues. “Many kids who have opioid addictions, especially as teenagers, started with pot,” Dr. Patricia McDougall Schick of Hobart said.
“We already have a problem with high-paying manufacturing jobs that go unfilled because people cannot pass the drug test,” Schick reiterated. “We need to be factual as we make a decision.” Schick was not the only one to speak out against the resolutions. Marian Krumberger, chair of the county Republican Party, also opposed it.
Krumberger accused progressive board members of cheap politicking, claiming they are pushing the referendum as part of a conspiracy to increase turnout of progressive voters who may favor their candidates come the November elections. In turn, those in favor of the referendums accused opponents of “Reefer Madness-level fearmongering.”
Advocates say opponents are ignoring a trend that has seen 29 states and the District of Columbia legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, as well as nine states that have liberal laws for recreational use, including in the district. They pointed out wisely that states where use is legal are enjoying significant increases in tax revenues.
However, it appears that Wisconsin is more than a ways away from legalizing weed for any purpose. The Legislature has little appetite to consider even potentially legalizing. Only five other counties have committed themselves to putting a marijuana question on the November ballot, being Sauk, Rock, Milwaukee, La Crosse, and Dane. This week, the Winnebago County Board narrowly rejected the idea.
On Wednesday, advocates on the Brown County Board noted that marijuana is legal in some form or another in several of their neighboring states, stating wisely that asking the opinion of residents in Wisconsin was the best option. This month, Michigan issued its first seven licenses for medical cannabis. Officials estimate that the state could generate $700 million because of it.
“The party I worked for so many years asks that we ignore the will of the people we represent,” pointed out Mark Becker, Pulaski Supervisor and former chair of the county Republican Party. “I find that shameful.” Erik Hoyer, Green Bay Supervisor, liked anti-pot arguments to what happens in a cow’s digestive tract. He says the same fears are repetitive, yet take forever to be processed.
Hoyer, who holds a doctorate in plant biology, confessed to buying legal weed during a visit to Colorado earlier this year, and he rightly noted that nothing bad happened to him. “I did not jump out of my window like a character on some after-school special,” he said. “I did not leave my wife and join the jam band Phish on the road.”
He did not manage to sway opponents, however. Instead of concentrating on the referendum question, some warned of the dangers that could accompany the legalization of a drug that the United States has long made illegal. According to Green Bay Supervisor Bernie Erickson, none of the constituents that he spoke to within the last three weeks was supportive of holding a referendum.
Erickson said that he sat on the Internet and researched the issue and, after visiting a local dispensary that sells cannabis oil, he worried that “edibles,” candies or cookies containing the active ingredient in cannabis could fall into the hands of children if legalization went ahead. “I feel really bad for people with medical conditions,” he said. “But if we lost one child, I could not look at myself in the mirror.”
However, Erickson did call for a third advisory referendum, which the board will have to approve in mid-August for it to make the November ballot. It is unclear how the resolution would differ from what supervisors already approved, but the county’s legal department would draft it and send it to the committee in early August for vetting.
The Questions and Their Votes
Recreational Use: “Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for recreational purposes, and regulated and taxed in the same manner as alcohol is for adults 21-years of age or older, with tax revenues going back to counties for tax relief and to assist with unfunded state mandates?”
Green Bay supervisors Tom Sieber, Erick Hoyer, Tom DeWane, Kathy Lefebvre, Staush Gruszynski, Megan Borchardt, Paul Ballard, Jim Kneiszel, Aaron Linssen, Mark Becker, and Alex Tran voted yes. However, they lost to an 11-15 vote.
Medical Use: “Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes, and regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs?”
Green Bay supervisors Tom Sieber, Tom DeWane, Erik Hoyer, Staush Gruszynski, Kathy Lefebvre, Megan Borchardt, Patrick Evans, John Vander Leest, Paul Ballard, Aaron Linssen, Jim Kneiszel, Alex Tran, Richard Schadewald, Tom Lund, Ray Suennen, and Mark Becker voted yes. They won by a 16-10 majority vote.
Who Will Hold a Referendum?
Aside from Brown County, which is still deciding, Dane, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Rock, and Sauk counties are in favor of holding an advisory referendum on the issue this fall. Eau Claire, Kenosha, Langlade, Outagamie, St. Croix, and Marathon, which plans to vote next week, are considering whether to hold a referendum or not. Both Winnebago and Walworth considered it but, in the end, decided against it.