In a rare move, the Walworth County Board on Tuesday killed a resolution to hold an advisory referendum asking voters if the Legislature should legalize marijuana.
Board member Charlene Staples, who was out of town and missed the meeting, submitted the referendum resolution and asked that it be referred to the executive committee Monday.
The Rock County Board narrowly passed a similar resolution last month.
Tuesday, board member Rick Stacey made a motion to “file” the proposed resolution and withdraw it from consideration. Other board members rallied behind Stacey’s motion, and the board voted unanimously to scratch the resolution.
“I am disheartened by it. I believe they should’ve allowed people to have a voice,” Staples told The Gazette on Wednesday. “I did what my constituents asked me to do. Unfortunately, others felt differently. I think there’s more information the state can gather on the issue of cannabis. And people want that information.”
Preventing a resolution from appearing at a county board committee is rare, County Administrator Dave Bretl said. The board refers about 90 percent of resolutions to committees without question, he said.
But during Tuesday’s meeting, several board members fervently opposed a referendum, pointing to a lack of tests that show how much THC is in a person’s body and questioning the effect marijuana use might have on children—both topics that came up in Rock County’s debate.
“I personally feel just by the very action of having the referendum implies you’re supporting it,” board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said. “If it’s contained in candy, some states where it’s been legalized, kids have been taking it to school with them. In Amsterdam, they’re having more problems in the coffee houses. It’s become a big crime area.
“For all those reasons, I would be totally against even having a referendum.”
Staples said the referendum’s intention isn’t to legalize marijuana but rather to gauge voters’ stance on the topic and nudge the Legislature to seek more research.
She said she proposed the referendum after several constituents asked her to do it.
Tuesday, board member Kathy Ingersoll told the board that placing the referendum on the ballot does not imply the board backs legalizing marijuana. She said discussions among board members “makes it sound like it’s a referendum to sway toward the positive, and I don’t think that was the purpose.”
Still, Ingersoll voted with the nine other board members present to scrap the resolution.
Had the board forged ahead, it would have joined Dane, Brown and La Crosse counties, which are currently considering holding advisory referendums in November.
The Rock and Milwaukee county boards have approved placing advisory referendums on the November ballot.