A single mom of 4 and newly elected state senator could be Wisconsin’s political champion for cannabis legalization.
Wisconsin State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) represents the state’s sixteenth district, which covers areas of Monona, Cottage Grove, McFarland, and extra. Agard was elected to her state senate seat in November 2020, with a promise alongside the marketing campaign path to legalize leisure cannabis use throughout Wisconsin.
Admittedly, Agard wasn’t all the time a standout supporter of legalized cannabis. It wasn’t till she hit the marketing campaign path in her 2012 run for state meeting that she mentioned residents throughout Wisconsin remodeled her considering.
“When I first ran for state legislature about nine years ago… cannabis legalization was not a big item on my platform, but after I was on the campaign trail, a number of people came forward and shared with me how cannabis prohibition had negatively affected their lives,” Agard mentioned.
“After I was elected, that narrative continued, so I started doing a bit of research… and my mind was changed,” she went on to say. “It took talking to and listening to people from all across our state with very diverse stories to convince me that this was something that I needed to take on.”
Currently, the one authorized type of cannabis permitted in Wisconsin is using CBD oil. Agard mentioned she believes cannabis needs to be totally legalized, taxed, and controlled simply the identical as alcohol in Wisconsin, a transfer neighboring states like Illinois and Michigan have already made.
Early in her state meeting profession, Agard wrote and put forth a invoice that will do exactly that. Due to lack of help from Republican colleagues within the state legislature, although, the invoice by no means gained the traction it wanted to go.
“The Republican leadership in the capitol building… they don’t have an appetite to move forward with [legalizing cannabis],” she mentioned. “When I’ve talked to folks who are opposed, it seems very much to me that they don’t have current or valid information that they’re basing their opinions off of.”
Last week, the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee voted to kill practically 400 gadgets from Gov. Tony Evers’ price range, together with marijuana legalization, Scott Bauer of the Associated Press reported.
In an interview final month with the Herald-Independent, Agard mentioned she could be ready to reintroduce marijuana laws as a standalone invoice if it was shot down in Evers’ price range proposal.
“It’s very clear that prohibition did not work with alcohol and it isn’t working with cannabis either,” she mentioned. “The most dangerous thing about cannabis right now in Wisconsin is that it’s illegal, and by legalizing it, we can provide for more safety, security, and prosperity for our citizens… it’s never too late.”
She launched a press release Thursday, saying, “If Republicans want to take up these issues separately, then let’s actually take them up. I call on my Republican colleagues to move the polices forward that they claim do not belong in the budget. Let’s discuss these policies on their merits in public hearings, executive sessions, and on the floor. We all lose when we ignore the will of the people. Shame on Wisconsin Republicans for ignoring them now.”
Despite roadblocks like final week’s Joint Finance Committee vote, there are some Wisconsin Republicans who, lately, have proven some curiosity in shifting nearer to the legalization of cannabis.
In 2019, Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) launched a invoice that will legalize cannabis for medicinal functions. The invoice made no point out of legalizing the drug for leisure use, nevertheless.
In February of this yr, Bernier was a robust critic of Gov. Tony Evers’ selection to incorporate the legalization of leisure cannabis in his 2021 budget proposal.
“I support the concept of the bill that… I introduced last session regarding medical marijuana,” Bernier mentioned. “The federal government still considers marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. I believe that needs to be changed. However, it is clear there is not legislative support for this change, just as there was not an appetite for the medical marijuana bill I introduced last session. Rather than acknowledge that, the Governor decided to issue a half-baked scheme to legalize recreational marijuana on Super Bowl Sunday, barely a week before his budget address.”
In March, Bernier once more launched a cannabis bill, this time one that will work to decriminalize the drug by decreasing possession fines and eradicating the required six month jail sentence that usually accompanies a possession cost.
“The bottom line is, [Evers] knows, I know, we know that the Republican legislature is not going to [fully] legalize marijuana, per se,” mentioned Bernier. “So, let’s talk about the things we can do, and work together.”
Agard mentioned that whereas legislative pushes for legalization from throughout the political aisle like Bernier’s are a step in the proper course, it’s nonetheless not as progressive as she’d prefer to see.
“It’s always refreshing to see my Republican colleagues being willing to engage in these conversations and be thinking about how the prohibition of cannabis in Wisconsin has been affecting our community, and certainly any steps we can make there are appreciated,” mentioned Agard. “However, I don’t believe that by decriminalizing cannabis or by decreasing fines and fees that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that Wisconsin is a more fair and just community for everyone.”
Along with financial advantages, Agard mentioned her greatest motivation in pushing for cannabis legalization is the influence it could have on problems with social justice.
A March report from the Milwaukee County District Attorney revealed that Black Wisconsinites are 4.2 occasions extra seemingly than white Wisconsinites to be arrested on cannabis-related prices.
“We know that cannabis is used pretty equally among people of all racial backgrounds, however Black and brown people are more likely to be arrested for simple possession,” mentioned Agard. “It’s important to talk about the economy, but it’s also really important to talk about the social justice aspect of legalizing cannabis because they’re certainly intertwined.”
Agard has described cannabis legalization as a multi-billion greenback trade “knocking on Wisconsin’s door.”
She mentioned from taxes and licensing charges alone, the state might convey in additional than $160 million in income if cannabis have been legalized. According to Agard, legalization would additionally enhance native Wisconsin farmers, together with many who’re battling income throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
When requested why Wisconsin appears to be late within the sport on cannabis laws compared to the remainder of the Midwest, Agard mentioned all of it comes right down to gerrymandering.
“It really all boils down to our highly gerrymandered state,” she mentioned. “I’m hopeful that in a year where we’re redrawing the boundaries of our legislative districts, they’re done so in a more fair way and that the will of the people is actually respected in our policy making, in a way that it hasn’t been over the past decade.”
Gerrymandering was one subject that got here up final week when Agard traveled throughout the district for seven listening classes at space parks.
Wisconsin final drew state legislative and congressional district maps 10 years in the past, in 2011. With new districts set to be drawn this yr, Agard mentioned she thinks this subject might proceed into subsequent yr.
She mentioned if she might look right into a crystal ball, she believes “the legislature will vote on policy… by the majority party,” Evers will veto it and it’ll go to the courts. She hopes it’ll end this yr, but it surely might get caught up within the courtroom system.
She mentioned at her Cottage Grove listening session on Thursday that the presently gerrymandered districts don’t characterize the values of the state of Wisconsin.
It’s “not what represents the will of the people,” she mentioned.