Legalizing marijuana: Democratic leader proposes new bill for recreational use

NOW: Legalizing marijuana: Democratic leader proposes new bill for recreational use

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Democratic leader of the state Senate has introduced a revised recreational marijuana bill that would expand how much cannabis an adult can possess and create a pathway to expunge low-level cannabis convictions.

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard, a longtime advocate of cannabis legalization, made some changes to legislation she proposed last session that would fully legalize cannabis for adult use over the age of 21.

The bill faces an uphill battle, as top Republicans for years have been strongly opposed to recreational use but are open to some form of legalization as long as restrictions are in place to ensure it's used for medical purposes only.

With Minnesota becoming the most recent state to legalize marijuana, Wisconsin is now surrounded by states that allow cannabis consumption in some form.

Agard's proposal would allow Wisconsin residents to possess up to five ounces of marijuana, compared to two ounces under her 2021 bill.

One of the new provisions in the proposal mirrors Minnesota's law that would remove low-level marijuana-related crimes or convictions from an individual's record.

Businesses would also be able to obtain a permit to sell cannabis and allow customers to consume marijuana on site, often referred to as "marijuana lounges" where professionals can help guide customers who are new to cannabis.

If a minor is charged with possession of cannabis, they would be issued a fine of up to $200 instead of facing criminal penalties.

Thirty-seven states have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana, including Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. In an interview with CBS 58, Agard said she hopes the recent legalization in Minnesota will get enough people in the Legislature to understand how much money prohibition is costing the state.

"Over 50% of adults over the age of 21 live within 75 minutes of a legal dispensary, and that's even before Minnesota starts opening their doors to legal dispensaries," Agard said, who's been traveling across the state hosting a series of "Grass Roots" tours on the issue.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue estimates marijuana sales could bring in about $110 million in tax revenue by 2027.

Illinois dispensaries made more than $1.5 billion in 2022. Of the nearly $240 million in sales there, more than half came from out-of-state customers.

According to a memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsinites paid over $36.1 million in taxes attributed to marijuana sales in Illinois.

The analysis reviewed cannabis tax revenue sales by "assuming that all sales to out-of-state residents in counties bordering Wisconsin were made to Wisconsin residents, which are estimated to constitute 7.8% of total Illinois cannabis-related tax revenue."

Last year, a public hearing was held on a medical marijuana bill proposed by Republican Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) and Rep. Patrick Snyder (R-Schofield). That bill would only allow professionals to prescribe medical marijuana in pill or liquid form, along with a way to apply to the skin. Inhaling cannabis would be prohibited.

Agard said she would not support that bill if it was reintroduced because of the restrictions.

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