When voters in 16 Wisconsin counties and two cities go to the polls Nov. 6 they will join a nationwide debate by marking their ballots for or against legalizing marijuana use either for medical reasons or personal recreation.
The advisory referendum questions are scattered on local ballots throughout the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to La Crosse and Langlade counties and the cities of Waukesha and Racine. All were approved by county boards or city councils.
Supportive officials and marijuana legalization activists say the referendums will provide a measure of public opinion that can be shared with the state Legislature, and possibly spur new laws relaxing or eliminating current prohibitions on pot.
Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said voter approval of the November legalization questions, at a minimum, should persuade legislators to approve a statewide advisory referendum on marijuana legalization.
"There would be no denying the results of a statewide referendum," Bowen said.
But Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) said there will be no need to wait for a statewide vote after the November referendums since she, too, expects approval of the various questions. Those results will come on top of opinion polls that already show majority support for marijuana legalization among state voters, Sargent said.
Sargent intends to re-introduce her marijuana legalization bill when the Legislature starts a new session in January. She is optimistic the November referendums will encourage more legislators to co-sponsor the legislation than in past sessions.
"The most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal," Sargent said.
Her opinion is that that as long as pot remains illegal, it will continue to be distributed widely in a black market that fosters crime and offers no consumer protection while creating racial disparities in arrests for simple possession or use of small amounts of marijuana.