Local Lawmakers Weigh In On Marijuana Legalization In Wisconsin
Several states and the District of Columbia have adopted expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. DrydenWire.com reached out to area lawmakers that are the representatives for the bulk of our viewers to get their thoughts on legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin.
Senator Janet Bewley (D - Ashland) representing Senate District 25, Representative Romaine Quinn (R -Rice Lake) representing Assembly District 75, and Representative Nick Milory (D - South Range) representing Assembly District 73, all agreed to respond to 5 frequently asked questions that local citizens asked DrydenWire.com to ask.
Editor's Note: The responses were sent via email and are unedited. The order of the responses are based on the order we received them; (1st) Rep. Milroy, (2nd) Rep. Quinn, & (3rd) Senator Bewley. There were 5 questions sent with a 6th that was optional if there was anything else each wanted to add.
DrydenWire: Do you believe marijuana should be legalized for recreational use in Wisconsin?
Rep. Milroy: I remain undecided on full legalization. I fully support medical marijuana as it has been proven to be instrumental in alleviating the pain of many diseases and increasing the appetite. I also support decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. The cost to taxpayers is too high for the incarceration of people that are put away for having small amounts of marijuana. As for full legalization of recreational marijuana, I would want to hear from the public and do a lot of research to get a better understanding of the issue.
Rep. Quinn: Maybe? That is an answer you’d expect from a politician, right? This is why I prefer to go through the hearing process before deciding on difficult bills: I say maybe because I feel that I really do need to know more information before saying yes or no, and I’d like to hear from some experts. By opening marijuana up for recreational use, we would need to know for certain that law enforcement would have the tools necessary to ensure public safety. Being able to detect when people are driving impaired and knowing the quantity of THC in the marijuana being consumed (similar to measuring alcohol content) would need to be easily accessible. But when it is all said and done, if you continue to go to work every day and take care of yourself and your family and don’t hurt anyone else, is it really the government’s business telling you what you can or can’t put in your body, especially while in your own home?
Senator Bewley: The laws of our state are gradually changing in regards to marijuana use, possession and sale. The use of cannabidiol, a non-hallucinogenic derivative of marijuana, is no longer illegal for treatment of seizures, particularly in children. But there is no legal mechanism for its sale. The State Senate and Assembly have recently approved legislation that legalizes industrial hemp, which has nothing to do with recreational marijuana. These things help de-stigmatize the conversation, however, and are small steps toward discussing the harder issue of legalization. The logical next step for discussion would be whether or not we should allow medical marijuana use in Wisconsin.
DrydenWire: If marijuana was legalized for recreation use, how do you see that impacting the Criminal Justice System?
Rep. Milroy: It is predicted that Wisconsin will have a record number of inmates in 2019, and at least one state legislator has said Wisconsin is in need of a new prison. Decriminalizing marijuana would certainly alleviate this problem. It would also lower the caseloads for our district attorneys who are already short-staffed statewide.
Rep. Quinn: Well the most obvious effect would be the freeing up of time for law enforcement and the local District Attorney’s office, who are already understaffed. But does that mean they won’t have to deal with other issues that can arise from usage? My guess is no. Just last year a doctor in Pueblo County, Colorado was interviewed by CBS and asked his opinion on recreational use. From his own experience, he has seen a 15% increase in babies being born that have tested positive for marijuana. When the doctor asked the mothers why this happened, most were not surprised that their babies tested positive, but rather upset at the fact that they didn’t know it was detrimental to the child’s health since it was a legal substance. Does that mean that every marijuana user is going to expose the drug to children? I doubt it. But as on most issues, education is key.
Senator Bewley: Depending upon how it is done, legalizing marijuana could have either a negative or positive effect on the state’s criminal justice system. If our criminal justice system isn’t given adequate resources, the results could be harmful. However, if well-funded and managed properly, the legal sale could generate much needed income for both the criminal justice system and treatment programs.
DrydenWire: Do you believe that marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin, meth, or other drugs?
Rep. Milroy: This is a tough question. I don’t believe marijuana is addicting like Heroine or Meth. However, if an individual uses marijuana, they might believe they are not susceptible to addiction of drugs. It’s all about education, education, education.
Rep. Quinn: I believe any substance, legal or not, can be abused and be harmful. Heck, look at all the people in our community that continue to abuse alcohol! If you look at the state’s heroin epidemic, many addicts got started by using/abusing prescription drugs. From my current understanding, I do not believe marijuana has nearly the addictiveness of meth or heroin, making it far less problematic. I have yet to know a person that has used meth or heroin that has not completely ruined their life or hurt others. Most people that abuse drugs have underlying mental, emotional, or medical health issues. We need to know the issues the addict is facing in order to fully understand why they became addicted.
Senator Bewley: Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances, but research also shows that the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances. Genetic predisposition, mental illness, chronic poverty, trauma and lack of social support are the gateways to Heroine, Meth, and other drug use.
DrydenWire: If marijuana was legalized, what impact do you see it having on Wisconsin’s Economy?
Rep. Milroy: It could be a great revenue enhancer. Taxing and regulating marijuana may be better public policy than chasing marijuana dealers and recreational users. I should add that I believe Wisconsin is behind the times in not allowing our farmers to produce hemp.
Rep. Quinn: There is no doubt that the State of Wisconsin could raise additional tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, but we can already do that now through income, sales, and other taxes. Allowing recreational marijuana should not be decided based upon dollar signs, but rather how it can affect society, and whether or not the government has the right to tell you what you can or cannot consume.
Senator Bewley: The potential economic impact of legalizing recreational marijuana use is not something I am very familiar with. I haven’t seen any studies on how legalization would affect Wisconsin’s economy.
DrydenWire: Is the legalization of marijuana a partisan issue?
Rep. Milroy: It shouldn’t be.
Rep. Quinn: I don’t believe so. From what I see there appears to be a generational divide. Younger people tend to be more accepting of recreational use and older generations tend not to be.
Senator Bewley: Legalization is not automatically a partisan issue, which means that it could have bipartisan opposition as well as support.
DrydenWire: Any final thoughts?
Rep. Quinn: As I mentioned previously, I am open to medical marijuana and even lessening the penalty for possession. With the methamphetamine epidemic raging through our district, law enforcement already does not have the time to worry about the occasional marijuana user. If an adult goes to work every day, provides for their family, doesn’t receive taxpayer assistance, and occasionally consumes marijuana instead of having a couple beers, should we really be putting them in jail? That is the real question.
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