The top Democrat in the Wisconsin Senate has released a marijuana policy “zine” featuring information and cartoon illustrations about the state’s ongoing prohibition of cannabis as neighboring jurisdictions adopt legalization.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D), who has long championed marijuana reform within the recalcitrant conservative legislature, published the magazine online on August 21, part of a renewed effort to draw attention to the issue as she prepares to introduce another statewide legalization bill this session.
The zine, titled “Let’s Legalize It, Wisconsin,” states that the policy change “offers boundless positive impacts for Wisconsin that we must take advantage of rather than continuing as an island of prohibition.”
The “most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin,” it continues, “is that it remains illegal.”
Curious about Wisconsin’s delay in legalizing cannabis?
Dive into our zine to uncover the current legalization status and discover how you can be a catalyst for change.
— Senator Melissa Agard 🌻 (@SenatorAgard) August 21, 2023
The zine also offers a brief history of efforts to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin. A cartoon version of Agard, for example, is pictured holding cannabis legislation as the zine describes how the lawmaker has filed legalization bills six times since sponsoring the first version as an Assembly freshman 2014.
It also notes that Gov. Tony Evers (D) has “pushed for full legalization, but the predominantly GOP state legislature has ignored the people’s will.”
“Don’t be fooled by half-measures or political maneuvers,” it continues, seemingly referencing recent remarks by GOP leadership about internal plans to file a yet-unseen medical cannabis bill. “With policymaking, the devil is in the details. We need full legalization in Wisconsin.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said earlier in August that Republicans are aiming to introduce the medical marijuana legislation “this fall.” Agard and others have expressed skepticism, however, arguing that the GOP majority could have advanced the issue at any point, yet so far there have been only unfulfilled promises about a forthcoming measure.
The minority leader’s zine, which could double as a coloring book, advises people who care about cannabis policy reform to contact their representatives regardless of party and “request that they support full, responsible adult use legalization of cannabis.”
“We need bipartisan support for the legislation to move forward,” it states on a page showing a cartoon Agard next to a character that could be marijuana comedy icon Tommy Chong. The next page includes contact information for people to get in touch with their elected officials.
Republicans have yet to release any details about the rumored medical marijuana proposal, but the expectation is that it would be a limited measure that may prove too restrictive to earn the support of Democrats, who want to see Wisconsin follow the lead of neighboring states like Illinois and Minnesota, which have legalized marijuana for adult use.
Agard, for her part, also recently raised marijuana policy issues with Biden administration officials during a meeting at the White House.
“I think it’s vitally important everywhere we go that we talk about the things that matter most to our constituents,” the minority leader told Marijuana Moment. “And when we can bring those messages up the food chain, I will take the opportunity to do that.”
For now, many Wisconsin cannabis consumers have been making the trip to Illinois. Wisconsin residents purchased more than $121 million worth of marijuana from legal retailers in that state during 2022, according to an analysis earlier in 2023 from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that was requested by Agard. The purchases contributed about $36 million in tax revenue to Illinois.
A separate report published by Wisconsin Policy Forum in February found that 50 percent of the state’s adults 21 and older live within 75 minutes of an out-of-state cannabis retailer. That percentage stands to increase now that Minnesota’s market is coming online.
The failure of Agard’s amendments in the GOP-controlled legislature wasn’t entirely unexpected.
But efforts to legalize within Wisconsin continue to fall short. In June, the Wisconsin Senate rejected two budget bill amendments from Agard that would have adopted the policy change.
In May, Republican senators had stripped cannabis legalization provisions from the governor’s budget. The Assembly speaker had previously warned Evers that pushing for broad legalization in his budget proposal could jeopardize deals on more modest medical marijuana legislation, but the governor did it anyway.
At a joint committee hearing also in May, Republicans stripped both recreational and medical cannabis language from the budget proposal, along with hundreds of other policy items.
Agard responded with two amendments, one that would have restored key marijuana provisions and a separate, alternative legalization amendment.
The failure of Agard’s amendments in the GOP-controlled legislature wasn’t entirely unexpected. But for observers of the voter-supported reform, it represented the first time many senators were forced to state publicly where they stand on legalization.
Agard, who spoke with Marijuana Moment in May about the challenges of advancing cannabis reform amid GOP opposition in the state, emphasized that it’s “so important that people reach out to their elected officials and share with them why a ‘No’ vote when it comes to cannabis policy in Wisconsin is harmful and how that impacts them personally.”
Controversial legislation signed in June blocked non-binding advisory questions from local government ballots.
Meanwhile, Evers signed broad legislation in June that contained a controversial provision blocking the ability of local governments to put non-binding advisory questions on the ballot. The practice has been used repeatedly over the years in Wisconsin to demonstrate widespread public support for marijuana legalization.
While the new law is focused on revenue sharing and increasing funding for localities, its elimination of the advisory questions could threaten the process that’s empowered voters across the state to tell their representatives where they stand on cannabis legalization.
During the 2022 election, voters in three counties and five municipalities approved referenda voicing support for cannabis legalization.
The governor said in January 2023 that he believes Republicans will indeed introduce medical cannabis legislation this session, and he committed to signing that bill into law so long as it’s not “flawed” with too many limitations.