Eau Claire County residents could be asked this fall if they think cannabis, better known as marijuana, should be legalized for adult use.
During the coming weeks, Eau Claire County Supervisor Gerald Wilkie will work with county attorney Keith Zehms to draft an advisory referendum.
That proposed referendum will return to the board’s Administration Committee, which meets on Aug. 14, and couldgo to the County Board on Aug. 21.
If approved by the board and submitted to Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis by Aug. 28 — the deadline to include the question on the Nov. 6 ballot, she said — the referendum would go to Eau Claire County voters this fall.
“This is an issue that has been discussed by other counties, and other counties have moved forward with asking the citizens of their county … to express what their wishes are on this very controversial issue,” Wilkie said at Tuesday’s Administration Committee meeting.
Supervisors Colleen Bates and Ray Henning, who serve on the committee with Wilkie, said they weren’t sure if the county was ready for a referendum or the questions that might come because of one.
“We aren’t legalizing (marijuana),” Wilkie said. “We are asking the public for their opinion.”
Of the state’s 72 counties, two — Milwaukee and Rock — are putting advisory referendums before voters in November, said Andrew Hysell, a consultant working with the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, which is assisting counties across Wisconsin to possibly do the same.
At least 11 others, including Eau Claire and St. Croix counties, are considering doing the same, Hysell said Tuesday by phone.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, according to the website governing.com. Wisconsin isn’t among them.
“Wisconsin (at some point) will face the issue as well,” according to an information sheet presenting the case for advisory referendums Hysell provided in an email to Eau Claire County Board Chairman Nick Smiar.
“Wisconsin legislators will be looking to their constituents for evidence of support or opposition for legalization, and a referendum will be invaluable,” the sheet states.
Supervisor Brandon Buchanan, who attended the committee meeting, would like to see an advisory referendum ask Eau Claire County residents a yes-or-no question — should cannabis be legalized for adult use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used for education, health care and infrastructure in Wisconsin?
Wilkie said he would support such a question after seeing his late mother’s quality of life greatly affected by pain.
“I wish she could have been prescribed marijuana by a physician, or I could have provided it for her in a chocolate bar,” he said, noting she was a “chocolate fanatic.”
In the pro-referendum materials sent to Smiar, proponents of cannabis argue:
• Legalizing marijuana will benefit the state’s economy in tax revenue.
• Using marijuana as a pain reliever could help the state combat the opioid epidemic.
• Legalizing marijuana could help decrease the state’s incarceration rates at the state and local level.
Neither Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King nor Sheriff Ron Cramer attended the meeting. Zehms said he talked to Tiana Glenna, the county’s criminal justice coordinator, and she said there are some problems in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use.
In June, the St. Croix County Board’s Administration Committee approved sending a three-part referendum to the full board for consideration at its August meeting.
If approved at the Aug. 7 meeting, St. Croix County voters will be asked the following in November — should cannabis:
• Be legal for adult use, taxed and regulated by alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used for education, health care and infrastructure in Wisconsin?
• Be legal for medical purposes only and available only by prescription through a medical dispensary?
• Remain a criminally illegal drug as provided under current law?
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