Wisconsin Republicans killed more than 500 proposals from Gov. Tony Evers (D) on Tuesday, including a proposal to legalize cannabis, among others that would pay for Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium renovations, create a paid family leave program and more, AP News reports.
Evers called the move “foolish.” He had proposed using the state’s record-high $7 billion budget surplus to fund a number of state spending priorities, which Wisconsin Republican leaders ultimately rejected. Members voted 12-4 to eliminate Evers’s provisions in the budget request.
“With a historic $7 billion surplus, we have a historic responsibility and opportunity to invest in needs that have long been neglected and build the future we want for our state,” Evers said on Twitter, before listing a number of the 540 priorities that were rejected in a thread.
“These aren’t fringe ideas, controversial concepts, or Republican or Democratic priorities—they’re about doing the right thing. With a historic surplus comes historic responsibility, and today, when we can afford to do more, this vote is foolish and a wasted opportunity,” he added.
It’s not necessarily a shocking move, in regard to cannabis at least, since the Republican-controlled legislature has previously removed cannabis reform language from past budget proposals. Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin also previously warned that they would not allow an adult-use cannabis legalization proposal to progress.
The cannabis plan would have allowed adults over the age of 21 to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis for personal use and grow up to six plants. The Department of Revenue would have been responsible for regulating the new cannabis market and issuing business licenses to prospective professionals in the cannabis space.
Evers’s office also estimated that the state would generate $44.4 million in “segregated tax revenue” from legal cannabis and a $10.2 million increase in state general fund tax revenue in fiscal year 2025, if the reform were to be enacted.
The governor is already known for his continuous pardons, mostly involving low-level offenses and including cannabis offenses. As of April 2023, Evers has hit 933 pardons in just over four years in office.
“It is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as governor to have the opportunity to grant a fresh start to folks who’ve made efforts to learn and grow from their past mistakes,” Evers said.
The onslaught of rejected proposals may be a case of déjà vu for Evers as well, as the governor also included recreational and medical cannabis legalization in his 2021 budget and decriminalization and medical cannabis in his 2019 proposal. The reforms were all blocked by the Republican legislature.
Last month, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Associated Press that Republican lawmakers in the state were working to privately build support for a medical cannabis program aimed to gain bipartisan support, potentially to be enacted into law later this year. Vos also voiced that he is opposed to legalizing recreational cannabis and does not want to create a medical program to act as a precursor to the adult-use market.
However, it looks like Wisconsin voters are already setting their sights on broader horizons. An August 2022 Marquette Law School poll of 811 voters in the state showed bipartisan support for legal cannabis, with 51% of Republicans, 75% of independents and 81% of Democrats backing legalization. A total of 69% registered voters believed cannabis should be legal.
Additionally, continuing to stall on cannabis legalization is likely taking away potential state revenue. A report published earlier this year found that 50% of Wisconsinites 21 and older live within 75 minutes of an out-of-state cannabis retailer, likely to increase as Minnesota inches closer to legalization.