Report: Cannabis prohibition costs Wisconsin millions in tax revenue

by Isiah Holmes, Wisconsin Examiner
March 18, 2023

Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) is again calling on the Legislature to legalize cannabis in the state of Wisconsin. Agard points to a recent memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), which found that $36.1 million in Illinois cannabis tax revenues last year came from sales made to Wisconsin residents.

Agard has been pushing to fully legalize cannabis since 2013. A public hearing for cannabis legislation, however, wasn’t held by the Republican-controlled Legislature until last April. The hearing focused on a Republican-backed bill to legalize medicinal cannabis to a very limited extent. Under the bill, patients could only seek medicinal cannabis to treat eight specific conditions. Those included Crohn’s Disease, glaucoma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, post traumatic stress disorder, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Medical cannabis could also only be provided in a pill, tincture or topical form. This would mean that other cannabis products such as flower, wax, oils and edibles would remain illegal. Full legalization was included in past budgets by Gov. Tony Evers, as well as bills by Agard, none of which  survived. In Illinois, less than an hour away from Milwaukee by highway, cannabis is fully legalized for adults.

“It should upset every Wisconsinite that our hard earned tax dollars are going across the border to Illinois,” Agard said in a statement. “This is revenue that could be going toward Wisconsin’s public schools, transportation infrastructure and public safety. Instead, Illinois is reaping the benefits of Republican obstructionism and their prohibitionist stance on marijuana legalization.” Agard noted that the revenue losses are even larger when considering other neighboring states with legal cannabis, Michigan and Minnesota.

“We are an island of prohibition and the people of our state are hurting because of it,” said Agard in a press statement. “As seen in our neighboring states, legalizing marijuana for responsible adult usage will generate significant revenue for our mainstreets, safely regulate the existing illicit market, reinvest in our agriculture and farming heritage, support entrepreneurship, and address the massive and egregious racial disparities from marijuana prohibition.”

Evers has included fully legalized cannabis in his most recent budget proposal. Agard said that if the provision is yet again stripped out by Republican lawmakers, she will introduce her own legislation. “It’s high time we get this done for the betterment of our state and the people living here.”

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