New Rock County Board member Yuri Rashkin senses a political opportunity in pushing for a Nov. 6 advisory referendum on legalizing marijuana.

If all he’s doing is using the referendum to tell state legislators what Rock County thinks about legalizing pot, there’s no harm in that. But we hope Rashkin doesn’t have designs to turn the county into a pot-smoking oasis, which would pit the county against both the state and feds, putting local law enforcement in a position of having to defy state statutes and federal laws. Rock County is mostly made up of law-abiding residents who’d likely resent acquiring a rogue status.

That said, state lawmakers need to wake up to the national trend toward legalization. If a November referendum were to pass overwhelmingly, lawmakers would be wise to heed those results, especially if the results are repeated across multiple counties. The Milwaukee County Board, for example, voted 15-1 on May 24 to pose the legalization question to residents this fall.

As Rashkin told The Gazette, the legalization question is no longer at the fringe. “I feel like it’s very much in the mainstream,” he said.

State lawmakers ignore this trend at their own risk. As more people clamor for legalization, local officials are more likely to contrive schemes to circumvent the state government, especially if nearby states start to embrace pot, as both Illinois and Michigan seem poised to do.

But this isn’t the time for Rock County to assert itself and try to legalize marijuana without the state’s blessing. The U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has become increasingly hostile toward legalization. He’s trying to re-create the War on Drugs, and even state governments with legalized pot are worried about what he’ll do next. In this anti-pot climate, local governments need the resources of the state to protect them against a possible fed crackdown.

Wisconsin has financial incentive to defy the feds. It could lose millions of dollars in new revenue as neighboring states move to legalize pot. With local roads in disrepair and schools desperate for funds, no lawmaker should outright dismiss a potential source of substantial revenue.

Rashkin recognizes the state is hungry for revenue, and he believes his best bet is to pressure state lawmakers.

There’s nothing wrong with Rashkin’s approach, so long as he contains it to an advisory role. We’d frown on any attempt on his part to explore changing county ordinances to legalize marijuana, regardless of a Nov. 6 referendum’s outcome.

If the time has come to consider the legalization of pot, that’s a debate that should be had in the state Legislature, not the county board.

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