The state’s most populous counties voted in favor of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana.
Voters in Dane and Milwaukee counties were asked to weigh in on legal cannabis Tuesday through similar advisory referendum questions. Fourteen other counties and two cities also had marijuana-related questions on the ballot, all of which passed easily.
“It’s definitely the biggest win for cannabis ever in Wisconsin,” said Gary Storck, an activist and former lobbyist who’s been involved with the cannabis legalization effort in the state. He notes about 1 million Wisconsinites voted in favor of marijuana.
“That’s almost as many people that voted for Evers, or Walker,” he said. “You can’t put that back in the bottle.”
Dane County’s question asked voters if they think marijuana should be legalized, taxed and regulated for adults 21 or older, in the same way alcohol is treated. Milwaukee County’s question didn’t mention alcohol, but was largely the same.
Nearly 400,000 of Milwaukee County’s 950,000 residents answered the marijuana question, with over 260,000 voting yes. And about half of Dane County’s 530,000 residents voted on marijuana, with about 221,000 in favor.
The two cities with cannabis referendums, Racine and Waukesha, had very different questions.
In Waukesha, voters were asked if cannabis should be legalized in the state for medical purposes, and regulated in the same manner as prescription drugs. Over 76 percent voted in favor, with 23,731 voting yes and 7,243 voting no.
In Racine, voters were asked about marijuana through four different questions, dealing with recreational use, medical use, taxation and decriminalization. Medical use was more popular than recreational use, but voters were in favor of all four questions.
Many of these questions were put forth by local officials at the urging of their constituents. Some of those voters were motivated by a desire for medical cannabis availability, either for themselves or their loved ones.
“The public was engaged, showing up in great numbers to testify in favor of these referendums,” Storck added. “There’s lots of momentum going.”
Brown County, population 262,000, saw strong support for medical marijuana, with over 75 percent voting in favor. And Racine County, population 196,000, also saw solid support for medical.
As with the city referendums, Racine County’s marijuana question was split into parts, focusing on medical, full legalization, and taxing sales. All three referendums passed, with medical seeing the most support.
Eau Claire County had one question with three choices: making marijuana legal and regulated like alcohol, making it medically legal, and keeping it illegal. The most support was seen for full legalization, with 25,964 votes. And 14,958 voters supported medical legalization, compared to about 6,982 voting against legalization of any kind.
In Rock County, nearly 46,669 voted for legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, compared to 20,769 voting against. A similar question was posed in La Crosse County, where 35,843 voted for compared to 20,791 against.
In Sauk County, a question on medical marijuana was supported by 22,684, compared to 5,673 against. In Portage County, 28,129 voted yes for medical, and 5,755 voted no. And in Marathon County, about 49,137 voted for medical marijuana, compared to 11,115 against.
Weaker support was seen in Clark County, which had one question related to medical use. About 7,674 voted in favor and 3,763 voted against.
Kenosha County, by comparison, had very strong support for medical use, with over 59,638 voting for and about 7,753 voting against.
A handful of smaller counties also voted in favor of medical cannabis: Langlade, 7,061 to 2,071; Lincoln, 10,612 to 2,517; Marquette, 5,550 to 1,602; and Forest, 3,090 to 834.
Although the referendums are advisory in nature, Storck says recent changes in neighboring states will make it even easier for Wisconsinites to get their hands on marijuana. And that, he expects, will help move the conversation toward legalization.
Voters in Michigan, which previously had medical marijuana available, passed a ballot measure for recreational cannabis yesterday. And JB Pritzker, Illinois’ governor-elect, has expressed support for legal adult use.
“In a year or so, on our southern border, there could be cannabis storefronts open to Wisconsin residents right across the border,” Storck said.
Stock acknowledges the challenge of getting marijuana legislation passed with a GOP-controlled Legislature, but says the wins by Democrats Tony Evers and Josh Kaul give him hope for the future.
“I think it means we’re going to join the ranks of states that have legalized cannabis in some way, in a closer time than we would have thought,” he said.
–By Alex Moe