Evers pushes for $165 million recreational cannabis market

    Person examining cannabis plants
    Person examining cannabis plants (Getty royalty free by Nastasic)

    Cannabis is in Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed 2021-23 biennial budget, with the governor pushing legalization and regulation of the plant. If approved, Wisconsin would begin taxing cannabis similar to alcohol, joining 15 other states, including all of its neighbors, in legalizing a recreational market.

    “Legalizing and taxing marijuana in Wisconsin,” said Evers, “just like we do already with alcohol, ensures a controlled market and safe product are available for both recreational and medicinal users and can open the door for countless opportunities for us to reinvest in our communities and create a more equitable state.”

    The governor added, “frankly, red and blue states across the country have moved forward with legalization and there is no reason Wisconsin should be left behind when we know it’s supported by a majority of Wisconsinites.”

    This marks the Evers administration’s second attempt at putting cannabis in the budget. Republicans in the legislature shot down the proposal for the 2019-21 budget. Since then, some within the GOP have introduced their own proposals to legalize medicinal cannabis, or reduce existing fines for possession.

    A legalized market under the new proposal could bring in more than $165 million annually in tax revenue according to the administration, beginning in the biennium’s second year. Evers suggests setting aside $80 million of that revenue to fuel a new Community Reinvestment Fund.

    Starting in the 2023 fiscal year, Evers proposes to use the fund to provide $30 million in equity grants through the departments of Health Services, Administration, and Children and Families. Another $5 million of the money would go to underserved communities through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and $34 million would go toward rural development.

    Under the Evers proposal, cannabis would be taxed and regulated through the Department of Revenue (DOR) and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Sales of cannabis products could only be conducted through retailers possessing a valid permit from the DOR. Wisconsinites would need to be 21 years or older to buy recreational cannabis products. The proposal also lays out a plan for medicinal users to have access to products without paying retail taxes.

    Wisconsinites would be limited to purchasing two ounces of cannabis or having six plants for personal use. Non-residents, however, could not have any more than .25 ounces of cannabis. Additionally, licensed processors would not be able to sell cannabis grown outside the Badger State.

    Meanwhile, in Milwaukee County, Supv. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez is set to announce a measure to reduce the fines for possession of cannabis or paraphernalia to no more than $1. Currently, possession fines in Milwaukee County are set at not less than $250, and no more than $500. In 2019, according to a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors press release, 187 citations for possession were issued in the county.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.