Nevada launches sales of legal recreational marijuana (copy)

In this June 28, 2017, photo, Alessandro Cesario, the director of cultivation, looks at marijuana plants at the Desert Grown Farms cultivation facility in Las Vegas. Recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada on July 1. (AP Photo/John Locher)

John Locher

It’s no secret that Wisconsin is in the middle of a severe budget crisis. We are facing a billion-dollar deficit, we can’t afford to fix our roads or fund our schools, and middle-class families are struggling to make ends meet. Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have been squabbling for months about the 2017-2019 budget and have made virtually no progress in coming up with a single solution.

They’ve talked about transferring money from other areas of the state budget, collecting fees for heavy trucks, raising gas taxes, and implementing toll roads. And now, with the budget two weeks overdue and the Joint Finance Committee having not met for the past month, Republicans have become so desperate they’ve stooped to publicly demanding that outside groups who opposed Republicans’ previous proposals submit budget plans of their own, and, most recently, even considered borrowing $341 million from the federal government.

The one solution they haven’t talked about is an option that’s been on the table since I introduced it in the Legislature four years ago: legalizing marijuana.

States across the country are recognizing the economic bounty of legalizing marijuana and capitalizing on the marijuana rush in droves — one in five Americans now lives in a state where it is legal to use marijuana recreationally, and 26 states and D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form. The most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal, and the more our budget crisis worsens and we continue to see new evidence of legalization’s economic benefits, the more unjustifiable — and even foolish — it becomes to put off legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin.

But I don’t want you to take my word for it. Check out the results for yourself:

In 2015 alone, with more than $1 billion in marijuana sales, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry contributed nearly $2.4 billion in economic impacts to the state and has boasted the fastest-growing business sector in Colorado with more than 18,000 jobs created — a powerful economic engine generating more per dollar in economic output and employment than 90 percent of other industries. By 2020, the marijuana industry in Colorado is expected to surpass all other industries as the state’s largest excise revenue source.

And it’s not just the numbers that support legalizing marijuana — real, everyday people do, too.

Support for marijuana is the highest it’s been since Gallup started asking about it in 1969 — 60 percent of Americans support legalization, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2011. Legalizing marijuana now has more support than any presidential candidate has had in any general election popular vote since 1972.

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The same holds true here in Wisconsin, where 59 percent of Wisconsinites believe marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol, and 81 percent believe taxpayer dollars being put to better use than being spent arresting and incarcerating marijuana-related offenders is a compelling argument for legalization.

Republicans are running out of excuses for why they cannot support a bill to legalize marijuana, and it’s time for us to give marijuana legalization serious consideration in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites are begging for real solutions, fresh ideas, and drastic approaches to address our budget crisis. We can’t afford a temporary fix — we need to be willing to take different, unique approaches to create new jobs, jump-start our lagging economy, and prioritize middle-class families.

The bill I introduced in the Legislature today would legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. It’s not just about legalizing marijuana, it’s about legalizing opportunity. Given the budget crisis we’re up against, Wisconsin simply cannot afford to wait any longer.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the Wisconsin Assembly.

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