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Editorial: Legalizing marijuana could add $36M in tax revenue

By: Associated Press//August 21, 2023//

(AP File Photo/Julio Cortez)

Editorial: Legalizing marijuana could add $36M in tax revenue

By: Associated Press//August 21, 2023//

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Thirty-six million dollars could pay for 450 teachers in Wisconsin.

It could fix more than 700,000 potholes.

Or it could help 12,000 struggling families stay in their apartments or homes, avoiding eviction.

And that’s just the potential impact of the $36 million in tax revenue Wisconsin could collect every year from its residents now buying cannabis in Illinois. If marijuana were legalized here — as it has been in some form in every state surrounding Wisconsin — the tax collections would easily top $100 million, according to the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Minnesota, for example, which legalized recreational marijuana Aug. 1, expects to receive $110 million in annual tax revenue by 2027. That’s enough money to employ and train some 5,000 young people in the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, building trails, managing wildlife habitats and completing carpentry projects.

More important than tax receipts, legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin would recognize reality: Cannabis has gone mainstream. Most Americans now live in states where it is legal, and it hasn’t caused lots of problems.

Half of Wisconsin adults 21 or older live within a 75-minute drive to a recreational dispensary, according to the independent Wisconsin Policy Forum. And that was before Minnesota became the latest Midwestern state to allow it. Michigan and Illinois granted adults the freedom to use marijuana in 2018 and 2020, respectively. Iowa, the only other state that borders Wisconsin, allows medical marijuana with a prescription.

Madison-area residents can drive just 45 minute down Interstate 39 to a dispensary in South Beloit, Illinois. Bringing the substance back across the border is technically a crime. Yet more than a dozen cities including Kenosha, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Stevens Point and Superior have decriminalized small amounts.

Legalizing it across Wisconsin will make our state more fair for everyone by standardizing access and rules. It also will prevent excessive drug charges applied to people stopped for traffic violations or other minor offenses. Marijuana-related arrests and charges disproportionately affect people of color, which makes it harder to find and keep jobs.

Just as adults are allowed the freedom to drink alcohol responsibly, so should they be able to consume cannabis, which is arguably less dangerous if not beneficial for some.

Consider that doctors in Wisconsin can prescribe highly addictive opioids, which are killing 1,400 people a year in Wisconsin, according to the state Department of Health Services. Yet state Republican lawmakers won’t allow medical patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other terrible diseases to use marijuana as a mild and less risky alternative for controlling pain and nausea. GOP opposition to medical marijuana is weakening, yet it remains unjustified and inhumane.

Allowing adults to purchase small amounts of cannabis at legal dispensaries for pleasure will help ensure the substance is safe and regulated for users. Unlike street drugs, which can be laced with unexpected substances such as deadly fentanyl, cannabis from dispensaries must be grown according to government health standards.

Marijuana shouldn’t be sold to teenagers because it can harm their developing brains, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nor should it be sold in bright colors as gummies, which have been mistaken for candy by children.

Yet moderate use by adults is relatively safe. And some of the substantial revenue from legalized marijuana in Wisconsin could be used to address any existing or unforeseen problems.

Under reasonable proposals by Democrats including Gov. Tony Evers, only adults 21 years and older could purchase recreational marijuana in Wisconsin. State residents could possess no more than 2 ounces and six plants for personal use, with tighter restrictions on nonresidents. Motorists would be forbidden from driving while high.

Tribal governments in Minnesota appear well positioned to be the first sellers of legal cannabis there. Private companies will eventually join the market. Wisconsin should draft a licensing system to ensure a fair and open market for a diversity of entrepreneurs.

More than two-thirds of respondents to a statewide Marquette University poll last year favored legal marijuana for recreational use, while fewer than a quarter were opposed.

GOP lawmakers should listen to their constituents, legalize small amounts of the drug and put the tax receipts to work here in Wisconsin.

— From the Wisconsin State Journal


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