Voters across the state spoke loudly and clearly in November that they want medical marijuana legalized, and they want the “dark stores” loophole closed.
Will the Republican-controlled Legislature listen?
Most likely, no. But time and continuing public pressure will tell.
The “dark stores” loophole has plagued local municipalities for years. It allows big-box stores like Walmart and Target to challenge their tax assessments.
While municipalities assess these retailers at what they consider to be a fair rate, the retailers say their assessments should be much lower; in fact they say it should be the same as a shuttered, vacant storefront.
The loophole allows that, and when the retailers challenge their assessment, they typically end up settling, with the retailer paying a much lower assessment. In turn, that property tax burden is shifted to the residents of the community.
Almost everyone agrees the loophole is unfair. Gov. Tony Evers opposes it. There has been bipartisan support for bills in the Legislature to close it. And there were 23 referendums in the fall calling for the end of the loophole.
But Republican leaders of the Legislature have refused in the past to bring the bills up for votes, claiming vague excuses like they need “more study.”
We all know what’s really going on here: Big business doesn’t want it, and despite bipartisan support to close the loophole, GOP leaders don’t want to run afoul of their big business benefactors instead of doing the will of the people.
However, there may be some hope. A spokesman for Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Saukville, told Shepherd’s Express recently that momentum is building in the Legislature to get it done.
And Jerry Deschane, president of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, told Bloomberg, “The leadership of the Republican side is skeptical, but I think having the governor on the side of closing these loopholes will be helpful.”
When it comes to medical marijuana, the call for legalization was just as loud last fall, when 11 counties and one city overwhelmingly approved such referendums. Meanwhile, in six other counties, large majorities supported total legalization of marijuana.
The trend is obvious across the country. Thirty-three states now allow medical marijuana, and 10 allow all forms of it. Close to home, Michigan legalized all forms of marijuana in the fall.
Evers favors legalizing medical marijuana and letting voters decide about recreational use.
But indications from the Republican leaders in the Legislature again seem to favor ignoring the voters. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald recently said he would not consider a bill to legalize medical marijuana.
After the national outcry over last month’s lame-duck session, you would think Republicans in the Legislature would get the message: Listen to the voters.
How these two issues are handled will go a long way toward determining whether they really are paying attention. We’ll keep reminding them.