By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Here we go again. The heavy left Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors is looking to roll out another referendum on legalizing marijuana.
There are votes in the smoke.
Democrats are going back to their political playbook from 2018, when they shoved weed advisory questions on county ballots across the state to help drive up turnout — a strategy that proved effective in helping get liberal Gov. Tony Evers elected.
Pitched for the Nov. 8 general election, the referendum asks Milwaukee County residents: “Do you favor allowing adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?”
The ballot question, once again, means nothing without backing from the state, and leadership in the Republican-controlled state Legislature have shown little interest in making Wisconsin the 20th state (plus two territories and the District of Columbia) that regulate non-medical use of cannabis.
But such resolutions have done wonders to drive pot-happy voters to the polls.
Four years ago, about 1 million Wisconsin voters approved ballot questions calling for legalization at some level, medicinal or recreational, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-weed advocacy group. Sixteen counties and two cities put cannabis resolutions on their ballots, including the Democrat bastions of Dane, Milwaukee, Racine, Eau Claire, Kenosha and La Crosse counties.
“They are bringing it up to get people to the polls again. They are using the people again,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Patti Logsdon, who is vehemently against the proposed resolution. “It’s not going to change diddly squat. Marijuana is regulated by the state and federal government.”
A poll conducted shortly before the 2018 election found 56% of voters surveyed said they were more likely to vote knowing a cannabis measure was on the ballot.
Evers quickly catered to the cannabis crowd, putting in his first budget language to decriminalize marijuana. The Democrat in his second budget removed the thin legal veil and went full on in support of recreational weed. He talked up the tax money legal cannabis could bring to state government. Even then, Evers attached liberal initiatives to his liberal proposal, pledging to put aside about half of the $165 million in projected annual pot tax revenue “to improve equity and aid underserved communities.”
The Republican-led Legislature removed Evers’ measures from the final budgets they passed and he signed.
The pros and cons of legal weed aside, putting advisory questions on the ballot has boosted voter turnout enough to impact the outcome of races, politics watchers say. Expect more Dam-heavy counties to add cannabis questions to their ballots again.
“That’s the carrot for the horse,” Logsdon said. “That’s how Evers got voted in the last time.”