‘Prohibition Isn’t Working’—State Senate Democratic Leader Hits the Road to Promote Legalizing Marijuana

By Pat Kreitlow

May 17, 2023

Sen. Melissa Agard is bringing her “Grass Routes” tour to Eau Claire and Wausau.

Citing nearly 70% statewide public support for marijuana legalization, state Senate Democratic Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) is in the midst of a tour around Wisconsin designed to prod legislative Republicans into ending a state prohibition on pot that is forcing consumers to spend money in neighboring states.

“We know that prohibition did not work when it came to alcohol,” Agard said Wednesday on UpNorthNews Radio. “It did not work in Wisconsin when it came to margarine. And it is not working when it comes to cannabis. And because of the fact that we are a prohibitionist state, we are less safe. We are less prosperous, and we are less free.”

Agard’s “Grass Routes” tour includes an explanation of past attempts to legalize cannabis—whether fully or for limited medicinal use—and how other states are benefiting from escaping a dated view of marijuana that put it on-par with more dangerous and addictive drugs.

“Because the Republicans in the Capitol building appear to be suffering from ‘reefer madness’ and misinformation, we’re not able to march forward,” Agard said, referencing the 1936 film Reefer Madness that has transitioned from propaganda to unintentional satire.

Two Marquette University Law School polls last year showed public support is at nearly 70% for marijuana legalization. Agard said cannabis legalization is one of many areas where Republicans are legislating outside the mainstream of Wisconsin public opinion. Similar contrasts can be seen in topics like gun safety, health care, voting rights, and fair maps.

“When I go to these grassroots tours and meet with business owners, community leaders, and thought leaders, they feel like, ‘why not this?’” Agard said. “And the fact of the matter is, there are a number of policies that my Republican colleagues are not moving forward on that are wildly popular with the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

Agard’s “Grass Routes” tour will include Eau Claire’s L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library on May 25 and the Marathon County Public Library in Wausau on June 1. Both sessions run from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, the Republican prohibition on legal marijuana has created a pipeline that is moving money to Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and other states that have already changed their laws. A February study by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum noted that more than half of Wisconsin’s adults live within a 75-minute drive of a recreational cannabis dispensary in a nearby state. 

Michigan collected more than $110 million from a 10% recreational marijuana excise tax in its 2021 fiscal year—an amount equal to $11 per state resident. As a result tens of millions of dollars were distributed to municipalities, school funding, and the state’s transportation fund.

Illinois, in its 2022 fiscal year, generated $445 million in state taxes—about $35 per state resident—plus  another $146 million in local tax revenue from marijuana sales. The state estimates somewhere between 25% and 35% of all recreational marijuana sold was purchased by out-of-state residents.

Wisconsin is unlikely to reverse the flow of dollars under the Legislature’s current Republican leadership, which has sent mixed signals ranging from tepid support of medicinal marijuana to ongoing claims that pot is a gateway drug to more illicit substances—though the research is mixed at best.

As of last month, 38 states allow for at least medicinal marijuana use, and 22 of them have fully legalized cannabis.

“People are taking their hard-earned dollars and their valuable time to travel to other states to purchase legally regulated cannabis,” Agard said. “So that’s really how we start the conversations. And they are robust. People have lots of questions. But it is clear that Wisconsinites are ready, regardless of political flavor, and they’re frustrated by the lack of an action by the Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature.”


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.



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