A Rock County Board member wants a Nov. 6 advisory referendum to ask county voters if Wisconsin should legalize marijuana, a move that comes as neighboring states face similar deregulation measures this year.
Yuri Rashkin, who was elected to the Rock County Board in April, said he wants to know where voters stand on legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use in Wisconsin.
To be put on the November ballot, the referendum would need to be approved by the Rock County Board and its committees by Aug. 28. Rashkin said he will flesh out referendum language with the county’s corporation council and introduce the resolution “in the next little while.”
“There are steps that have to be taken to get from completely illegal to recreational,” Rashkin said. “I don’t know on which step we’re going to stop or how far we’re going to go. But I feel that a referendum is a very important and crucial step in that process.”
Rashkin’s proposal comes on the heels of decisions Tuesday in the Illinois and Michigan legislatures that made strides in deregulating marijuana.
In Michigan, lawmakers sent its legalization measure to the November ballot, and the Illinois Legislature passed a bill that will allow medical marijuana to replace prescription painkillers.
Wisconsin could be at a “competitive disadvantage” if neighboring states continue to deregulate marijuana, Rashkin said. According to the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, a progressive advocacy group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin could rake in $138 million a year in tax revenue from legalized cannabis.
Rashkin said if a November referendum identified majority support for legalizing marijuana, it would urge Wisconsin legislators to vote on a state-wide deregulation bill.
“This gives us support, motivation, even some pressure (if it passes),” Rashkin said.
On May 24, the Milwaukee County Board approved 15-1 adding a similar referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee County referendum will ask: “Do you favor adults 21 years of age and older to engage in the personal use of marijuana, while also regulating commercial marijuana-related activities, and imposing a tax on the sale of marijuana?”
Rashkin said Rock County’s resolution may include a similar one-question referendum. But the Wisconsin Justice Initiative suggested the county split the question into three parts, asking separately if marijuana should be legal for adult use, for medical purposes only or remain as a criminally illegal drug.
While it’s too early to track Rock County Board members’ support for the resolution, board member Wes Davis said he believes farmers might get behind the measure and could see it as a way to diversify their crop production.
“At the very minimum, it brings the issue to be discussed,” Davis said about a referendum. “And of course we can’t count that everyone would be interested. And I think it would really belong in the Legislature as an issue that would have to be decided on.”
Adding the referendum to the Nov. 6 ballot would likely not add expense for the county, County Clerk Lisa Tollefson said. But it might require the county to pay for “explanation publishing,” which Tollefson said the county is required to do for referendums.
Rashkin, who runs the Janesville Community Page on Facebook, said his social media commenters have frequently shown widespread support for legalizing marijuana. He added that he believes supporting marijuana legalization is no longer a fringe point of view.
“I feel like it’s very much in the mainstream,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the public to let elected officials know where they stand.”