Half of Wisconsin voters support marijuana legalization

2013-11-19T10:45:00Z Half of Wisconsin voters support marijuana legalizationJACK CRAVER | The Capital Times | jcraver@madison.com madison.com

In two states last year, voters legalized recreational marijuana. One of those states, Colorado, is similar politically to Wisconsin. 

And yet, few among Wisconsin’s political class appear to take pot legalization seriously. If anything, it is dismissed as a wacky western idea that has no place in the heartland.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke seemed amused when asked what she thought about cannabis legalization several weeks ago.

“I don’t think that’s where the people of Wisconsin are at,” said Burke, who has indicated she could support legalizing medical marijuana

Gary Storck, an activist with the Madison chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), pointed out in a letter-to-the-editor that the most recent statewide poll by the Marquette University Law School showed that roughly half of Wisconsin’s registered voters support full legalization of the drug.

Specifically, 49.7 percent supported legalization, 44.9 percent opposed and 4.7 percent didn’t know.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, the chief sponsor in the Assembly of a bill to set up a system for medical marijuana, said she is not sure where she stands on full legalization.

“I think there are pros and cons to it,” she said.

The lead sponsor of the medical marijuana bill in the Senate, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, has said in the past that he does not support full legalization. A spokeswoman said on Friday that he was unavailable for comment on the issue.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill that would empower municipalities to prosecute those caught with small amounts of marijuana, even if the district attorney decides to drop the charges. Six Democrats joined the chamber's 18 Republicans in supporting the measure. The division appeared largely generational, with the exception of Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Points, the Democrats who supported the bill were all at least in their late 60's.

Even medical marijuana remains out of reach. Not one Republican has signed on to Taylor and Erpenbach's bill, even though polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support legalizing the drug for medicinal use. 

Democrats failed to pass a bill authorizing doctors to prescribe pot in 2010, when they controlled the legislature.

The bill never reached a vote in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, a fact that pro-legalization activists attributed to Democrats who were scared of engaging a controversial issue during an election year. Activists even protested outside of a fundraiser for Lassa, a committee member whom they accused of blocking the legislation. At the time Lassa was waging an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Congress against Sean Duffy, an Ashland prosecutor, and was perhaps reluctant to appear soft on crime issues.

Lassa is again not listed as a co-sponsor of the Erpenbach bill. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Taylor attributes her party's hesitancy on pot to what she believes is an assumption on the part of Democrats that voters are more conservative than they actually are.

She points to a recent academic study that found that Democratic legislators across the country overestimated the conservatism of their constituents by an average of seven percentage points. Republicans overestimated their constituents' conservatism by a whopping 20 points.

One might expect some of the GOP lawmakers with ties to the anti-government tea party movement to support legalizing medical or even recreational marijuana.

But so far, few Republican legislators appear willing to follow the lead of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the tea party champion who has said he opposes prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

A notable exception is state Rep. Scott Krug, Town of Rome. A former cop, Krug has said he hopes to educate fellow Republicans on the benefits of alternatives to prison, particularly for drug offenders. But Krug is not close to suggesting that drug use should go unpunished, he simply believes there are more effective forms of punishment than prison.


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(29) Comments

  1. scralatchtica135
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    scralatchtica135 - December 05, 2013 4:51 pm
    The 2 party system does nothing but split the American people. All we do is fight amongst each other about our "representatives" who care nothing for you except to keep you under control and your money lining their wallets. They're all the same regardless if "party affiliation" but they have us so divided as a people that we could never stand up and revolt. We rebelled once over relatively light taxes, but look what we'll bend over and take now, all because we can't work together. It's sad.
  2. Eat Invest Local
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    Eat Invest Local - November 22, 2013 5:54 am
    Not going to happen. Follow the money... prisoners mean $$$ to the corporate run jails.
  3. Kevin Hunt
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    Kevin Hunt - November 20, 2013 10:09 am
    Wisconsin was the last state to have a commercial hemp industry. The last mill closed in 1958. The decline of the hemp industry is the result of a racist smear campaign against a useful plant. End the failed war on weed!
  4. aspyder
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    aspyder - November 19, 2013 8:39 pm
    Yes, and we know that was the 'will of the people' because it was a vote, not some poll. I don't need or want those that represent me voting by whims.
  5. aspyder
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    aspyder - November 19, 2013 8:34 pm
    Then put it to a referendum.THAT's how you find out the 'will of the people' not some poll.
  6. geo
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    geo - November 19, 2013 7:56 am
    A majority of Wisconsinites supported Scott Walker (twice) and we have Act 10!
  7. jimatmadison
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    jimatmadison - November 19, 2013 7:53 am
    You would think that the self-proclaimed 'small government' Tea Partiers would be wholly in favor of getting rid of the anti-marijuana laws.

    But in truth, 'Tea Party' means that you want to use the levers of government to force doctors to rape women with medical probes.

    'Tea Party' means you use your powers to override the wishes of the people of the state and allow out-of-state mining companies write legislation letting them rape our northern woods, and walk away from the expected damage without taking responsibility (wasn't THAT one of their favorite words, too?) for the cleanup or mesothelioma claims.

    'Tea Party' means taking away the right to vote for thousands of long-time Wisconsin citizens if they can't negotiate the maze of new IDs required just to be able to carry out their constitutional right.

    'Tea Party' means listening to the WMC, the Koch brothers, the Chinese-funded Chamber of Commerce, and every other big-money campaign contributor, and tuning out the citizens of the state of Wisconsin.
  8. Scandman
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    Scandman - November 19, 2013 6:43 am
    Just do it! RIP Ben Masel. Google charlotte's web a new strain of medical goodness.
  9. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - November 19, 2013 2:03 am
    Did we learn noting from Prohibition?

    There's no recreational drug whose effects are so bad that they can't be made worse by treating it as a criminal problem instead of a medical one.
  10. bananahammock
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    bananahammock - November 18, 2013 10:15 pm
    It's going to take more than half....
  11. Migraine
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    Migraine - November 18, 2013 9:56 pm
    Hundreds are employed in the hemp activism industry. Just in time for distracting a soon to be even more stupified populace away from managing their own government. Wisconsin deserves no such "reward" for these acts of negligence.
  12. northern_lights
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    northern_lights - November 18, 2013 8:32 pm
    Julie Lassa is a DINO ( Democrat In Name Only) who needs to be primaried. She is in my district and I would love to run against her as I come from a family of public educators, farmers, and iron workers.

    Anyways, time for politicians to listen to the will of the peoplw and end this stupid prohibition. Wisconsin will lag as we do not allow voter initiatives... because politicians always know best... ha!
  13. fid
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    fid - November 18, 2013 8:19 pm
    Uh, JB, despite the rhetoric you might hear, abortion remains legal in this country.
  14. 1111
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    1111 - November 18, 2013 7:59 pm
    They say that marijuana is the new gold rush. The states that jump on it and tax it are going to make an incredible amount of money off taxing it.
  15. der infomeister
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    der infomeister - November 18, 2013 7:27 pm
    If Walker legalizes weed, he'll get re-elected ...
  16. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - November 18, 2013 7:09 pm
    so what are these fiscal issues? tax breaks for moving jobs overseas? tax breaks for (billionaires) the not job creators? demonizing public employees for making a living wage? unfunding public schools? unfunded wars? unregulated wall st banksters? mining companies polluting the wi environment? oil spills in the gulf? new york city flooding?

    its the corporate fiscal issues that created the great divide, the wealth gap that will bring this country down.
  17. MrNatural
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    MrNatural - November 18, 2013 6:47 pm
  18. MrNatural
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    MrNatural - November 18, 2013 6:47 pm
    And yet if you match economic indicators like the stock market against who is in political power, all the indicators go up during Democratic administrations. Perhaps you should rethink your loyalties.
  19. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - November 18, 2013 6:41 pm
    Legalize it, there is no reason anyone should be fined or arrested for possession. A few famous tokers, Clinton, Bush and Obama.
  20. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - November 18, 2013 6:32 pm
  21. geo_
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    geo_ - November 18, 2013 6:19 pm
    The will of the people means nothing to government. A majority of Americans supported the single payer plan for health insurance, a large majority of Americans support enhanced background checks for gun purchases, neither happened because of the money in politics, money that can now be hidden.
  22. toobad
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    toobad - November 18, 2013 6:16 pm
    Let's start by releasing every person currently in prison for a marijuana offense.
  23. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - November 18, 2013 4:16 pm
    because while they support legalization (at least in my case) I don't really care one way or the other. It's like asking me if I support the cream puff as the official state pastry.

    and yes - the unholy coalition of social and fiscal conservative is an odd odd situations. The power of the social conservatives is those people tend to actually participate in politics far more then the libertarians.
  24. Jack Craver Staff
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    Jack Craver - November 18, 2013 12:26 pm
    Your view is one I frequently hear voiced, KD. It makes you wonder: How did the social conservative/fiscal conservative coalition form? Why are Republicans less likely to support pot legalization when there is such a strong libertarian current in the party on other issues?
  25. JBlazzze
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    JBlazzze - November 18, 2013 11:27 am
    Ironically these issues of legalizing cannabis and legal abortion would solve a lot of the other problems causing the fiscal issues. Cannabis prohibition is one of the largest incarceration problems for 12% of African-American population. Prisons are paid for by tax dollars. There lies huge issues in this alone. Not to mention the 1,000's of jobs in Hemp and Cannabis industries. Legal abortion would eliminate a lot of unwanted pregnancies that would only cause more strain to the broken system in which we live...By changing these little things we would be surprised how quickly everything else would change. Peace & Wellness!
  26. Jonathan Dedering
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    Jonathan Dedering - November 18, 2013 11:23 am
    Wisconsin formerly was the nations largest producer of hemp. Today, not a single person is employed in the industry.
  27. kd2632
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    kd2632 - November 18, 2013 10:10 am
    I support legalization, and some other liberal views like gay marriage and legal abortion. However, fiscal issues are more important to me so I usually end up voting conservative. If we had a parliamentary system I would vote libertarian.
  28. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - November 18, 2013 9:52 am
    you realize that describes the system of our government - a representative for of government, not a direct democracy.
  29. College Didn't Take
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    College Didn't Take - November 18, 2013 9:36 am
    Doesnt matter what you want...it only matters what I approve of. Vote for me
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