As Michigan and Illinois move toward permitting sales of recreational marijuana, Wisconsin finds itself without a strategy to handle its status as an island of pot prohibition.
There likely will be consequences for the state on this issue, especially for law enforcement agencies having to confront Wisconsin residents crossing state lines to acquire weed legal in other states.
Republican leaders have been vocal critics of Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession, but they so far have failed to offer an alternative plan except to maintain the status quo. Sorry, lawmakers, but ignoring the changes beyond our borders won’t make them go away.
And let’s hope Wisconsin doesn’t end up treating marijuana like it did margarine. To protect the dairy industry, the state in 1895 banned the sale of margarine colored to look like butter. As margarine gained popularity in the 1960s, many Wisconsin residents traveled to Illinois to acquire the stuff. The ban proved out of touch with consumer preferences, and it was repealed in 1967.
Marijuana isn’t margarine, of course, but there’s a lesson to be learned. Market forces don’t care about laws. If there’s a demand for something, people will seek it out. Wisconsin residents could go to Illinois to buy pot as soon as 2020 under the bill passed by the Illinois Legislature last month and sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his signature. Under the bill, nonresidents would be allowed to possess up to 15 grams, or half an ounce, of pot.
Meanwhile, Michigan is continuing to debate permitting marijuana sales after residents passed last year a referendum legalizing recreational marijuana. A Wisconsin Watch report showed how a reporter could easily obtain pot edibles from an outlet called BlazeMichigan, which provides a “gift” of marijuana with the purchase of two used books for $65. Pot sales are still banned in Michigan, so businesses having been exploiting loopholes while waiting for Michigan to approve pot sales. But it won’t be long before Wisconsin residents have a plethora of options for acquiring legal weed.
How will Wisconsin respond to a flourishing pot tourism industry in Illinois and Michigan? Will law enforcement set up checkpoints at the border to crack down on residents bringing weed back to Wisconsin? That would seem like a huge waste of resources.
Or will law enforcement agencies simply look the other way, conceding the impracticality of marijuana possession laws? We wouldn’t want that, either.
The Legislature and Evers should figure out a workable and enforceable pot policy, reconciling Wisconsin’s pot laws with looming legalization in nearby states.
Wisconsin residents aren’t going to wait for the Legislature’s permission to buy pot in neighboring states. The sooner lawmakers accept this reality, the sooner they can enact sensible marijuana policies.