Wisconsin Majority Leadership Slams Governor’s Inclusion of Cannabis Legalization in State Budget

<![CDATA[Henryk Sadura | Adobe StockWisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ biennial budget proposal to regulate and tax adult-use cannabis appears to be dead on arrival.

As part of his $91-billion budget released Feb. 16, legalizing cannabis would generate more than $165 million annually for Wisconsinites, beginning in the second year of the biennium, Evers announced in a statement. Under the governor’s proposal, that money would increase revenue, create jobs and reduce costs associated with the state’s criminal justice system. The proposal also includes legalizing medical cannabis.

But two days after the 717-page budget was released by the Democrat executive, it was met with scrutiny by two key Republicans who control the majority in both chambers of the state legislature. During a virtual luncheon hosted by WisPolitics.com, an online magazine and news service covering political and governmental news in Wisconsin, Rep. Mark Born and Sen. Howard Marklein slammed Evers’ inclusion of cannabis legalization in the budget.

Born and Marklein are the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), meaning they hold the fiscal keys as two of the most important decision-makers in the state Capitol. The committee members will spend the next few months rewriting the governor’s budget, with their version going to the Assembly and the Senate for a vote—Republicans own a 60-plus-percent majority in both chambers.

“Well, [cannabis legalization is] a huge issue; huge topic that I don’t believe should be included in the budget,” Marklein said. “It’s a significant enough policy change that that topic needs to be debated in the light of day on its own. I’ve heard from my sheriffs, my healthcare professionals, social workers, we’ve heard from representatives and legislators in Colorado on this topic, and it’s a big policy shift, and I just believe it’s too big to be inserted into the state budget.”

Piggybacking on those comments, Born said, “This is a major thing that has a lot of stakeholder groups on both sides. The senator just mentioned some of them. So, obviously we do public hearings on the budget, but they are on a lot of issues and they’re time limited because of how many things we have to dive into. These are big, broad discussions, and this is just one example of many of them that the governor put into this budget where it doesn’t belong.”

The gubernatorial-legislative strife on cannabis legalization isn’t new in Wisconsin. When Evers proposed decriminalizing adult-use cannabis and legalizing medical cannabis two years ago, it was rejected by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

Earlier in the virtual interview last week, both Born and Marklein said they had concerns with Evers’ 2021-23 budget proposal in its entirety.

“Sen. [Marklein] and I sent a letter to the governor saying, ‘Here’s a way we can work on a budget together: don’t include a bunch of divisive policy that doesn’t belong; don’t include huge tax increases; don’t go on a massive spending spree like you did last time,’” Born said. “And then he did all three of those things. So, we are kind

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