Five years ago, state Rep. Melissa Sargent rejected the backward thinking of those who seek to maintain a failed “drug war” and announced: “The facts clearly show that legalization is right for Wisconsin and that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal.”
Since then, the Madison Democrat has led the legislative fight to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use. She has done so for all the right reasons.
“Adults choosing to use marijuana in the safety of their own home is a matter of personal liberty and freedom,” said Sargent, who argued legalization would save time and money for law enforcement.
She noted responsible regulation and taxation of marijuana sales would raise needed revenues for the state. And, she said, legalization would address the stark racial disparities when it comes to marijuana-related arrests in Madison and across Wisconsin.
“With limited resources, and an overextended prison system, it is not sustainable to continue imprisoning people for these offenses,” the fourth-term state representative explained. “It is a travesty that we are putting millions of taxpayer dollars into victimless crimes when we should be doing the exact opposite: creating revenue and letting our police officers focus on keeping peace in our neighborhoods.”
The Capital Times, which for decades has supported efforts to decriminalize and legalize marijuana use by adults as part of our broader opposition to the drug war, has editorialized before in support of Sargent’s initiative. But progress has been frustratingly slow. Former Gov. Scott Walker, a robotic conservative who failed to keep up with evolving thinking regarding criminal justice issues, stood in the way of progress. So did Walker’s Republican allies, who controlled the Legislature.
Now that Walker is gone, newly elected Gov. Tony Evers is sending at least some of the right signals. But the key word at this point is “some.”
Evers said: “At the end of the day, do I favor legalization? Yes.” He added that, if a bill fully legalizing recreational marijuana were to secure the support of the Legislature, “I personally would sign that bill.”
So the governor is on the right side of the issue. Yet for now, Evers said, his budget is likely to include just “a first step around medical marijuana.” Newly elected Attorney General Josh Kaul said that he, too, is on board for medical marijuana.
That’s good. But that’s not enough.
It is absurd that Wisconsin is stumbling around in the “first-step” stage on these issues, when states across the country have recognized that legalization is the right response if we are serious about economic and social and racial justice.
We recognize that Evers still must deal with a recalcitrant Legislature, where Republican dead-enders like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald continue to call most of the shots. Vos has signaled some openness to removing barriers to medical marijuana but, for the most part, these “leaders” are phoning in their responses from the 1950s.
They are out of touch not just with Wisconsin but, increasingly, with their own party.
Sargent plans to keep rallying co-sponsors for her legalization legislation. We hope that Evers will help her to do so because Sargent was absolutely right when she said that, on this issue, “the public is ahead of the Legislature.”