The Nov. 4 elections had two big winners nationwide: Republican candidates and marijuana legalization. Wisconsin, Republicans strengthened their legislative majorities and Gov. Scott Walker was reelected over challenger Mary Burke, and the GOP Attorney General candidate, Waukesha County district attorney, Brad Schimel beat Democrat Jefferson County district attorney Susan Happ.
Both Mary Burke and Susan Happ had stated they were in favor of legalizing medical cannabis in Wisconsin during their campaigns. In the legislature, Republicans extended their majorities to 19 members of the 33 seat state senate and 63 state assembly members of 99.
There were four major victories for cannabis legalization nationally. Alaska Measure 2, Oregon Measure 91 and Washington D.C. Initiative 71 legalized adult use of cannabis while the U.S. territory of Guam passed Proposal 14A, legalizing medical cannabis. In Florida, Amendment 2 legalizing medical cannabis came up short of the required 60% margin, but drew a half million more votes than Gov. Rick Scott.
The national results demonstrate that cannabis legalization is here to stay and strong public interest and support for ending prohibition does not stop at our state borders.
So what are the prospects for legalization in Wisconsin? Gov. Walker and GOP legislative leaders are already planning an ambitious and very conservative agenda, picking up where they left off last session. Walker, suddenly talking about a presidential run, has urged lawmakers to pass the 2015-2017 budget, normally due by the end of June, in the shortest time possible.
Rather than enacting more job-killing austerity measures trying to fix a budget deficit currently forecast for at least $2.2 billion, lawmakers could consider looking at revenue enhancers like taxing and regulating cannabis and hemp.
This would create new industries with jobs that pay well above minimum wage, which are the kind of jobs Gov. Scott Walker said during the campaign that he wants to create.
Lawmakers also may feel public pressure to fix last session’s CBD medical cannabis bill, which was passed April 1, 2014 with the session winding down. The namesake of the bill died before receiving any of the medical cannabis oil, and the bill was drafted in a manner requiring federal approval, rendering it symbolic.
Ending cannabis prohibition deserves a serious nonpartisan look in Wisconsin. Not only is it a matter of compassion for people fighting serious illness, seniors, veterans, the sick, dying and disabled, but a matter of justice, considering the great racial disparities highlighted by the large number of minority arrests and Wisconsin’s poor record in this area. Restoration of the state hemp industry could reinvigorate the state’s slumping agricultural sector.
But, the political realities driving state lawmakers mean the cannabis issue will again likely take a back seat as the even larger GOP majorities explore a vastly different agenda and flex their expanded grip on political power in Wisconsin.