Will Wisconsin tourists flock to Illinois to buy pot?

By: - September 27, 2019 2:20 pm
Person examining cannabis plants

Person examining cannabis plants (Getty royalty free by Nastasic)

Wisconsin residents soon won’t have to go far to legally consume marijuana. A store that will sell cannabis less than one mile across the Wisconsin state line into Illinois got approved last Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported. The company plans to begin construction soon.

The article, ‘Can Illinois draw marijuana tourists from out of state? Retailers are taking a gamble on Illinois border towns’ reports that South Beloit, Ill. approved Chicago-based Cresco Labs to open a store just off Interstate 90, less than a mile from the Wisconsin border. 

“It’s the perfect site,” South Beloit Mayor Ted Rehl told the Tribune. “Location, location, location.”

South Beloit also plans to put a 3% municipal tax — the highest allowed — on the sale of marijuana and the mayor said the city could not pass up that opportunity. 

Wisconsin Democratic legislators–and even a Republican–have versions of legislation for full legalization and another for medicinal cannabis.

Rep. Melissa Sargent
State Rep. Melissa Sargent

State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison), is spearheading the push for full legalization in Wisconsin. An estimate tied to her 2017 bill noted that full legalization would within three years bring in $138 million annually — if Wisconsin consumers purchase about half the volume of marijuana bought in Colorado.

In his budget, Gov. Tony Evers had included legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of pot. He has called these measures a top priority. “This is not just about access to health care, this is about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity,” Evers said at a news conference earlier this year.

But the effort was removed from Evers’ budget and hit a dead end due to the staunch objection of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. (Speaker Robin Vos has expressed a willingness to look at medicinal marijuana.) 

Meanwhile, states all around Wisconsin are moving forward. In Michigan, marijuana is already legal for medicinal use and a ballot measure in 2018 resulted in approval of full legalization, although it won’t likely be available commercially until early next year, as businesses must be licensed and approved. That timing is similar to Illinois, where full legalization takes effect Jan. 1, 2020. Minnesota has a restrictive medical marijuana program, and Democrats have made full legalization a major election issue in that state.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.