La Crosse County official, doctor debate legalizing marijuana ahead of referendum

When La Crosse County voters cast their ballot this midterm election, they will answer the question if they are for or against legalizing marijuana. A member of the county board along with a local doctor presented the case for both sides during the Heroin and Illicit Drug Task Force meeting.

The presentations were meant to be both informative and persuasive for the dozens of people who showed up for the meeting. Speakers hit on issues including the drug’s effect on the body, potential for abuse and regulation.
The La Crosse County Board passed a resolution in July to add the question to this year’s ballot.

“Should the state of Wisconsin legalize use of marijuana by adults, 21 years or older, to be taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol,” said Monica Kruse, first vice chair of the La Crosse County Board, reading the wording of the referendum.

16 other Wisconsin counties and two cities are adding similar advisory referendums.

“Whatever the outcome is of this advisory referendum will then go to the state legislators for them to make a more informed decision,” Kruse said.

To help potential voters make that decision, county board member Doug Weidenbach went first with arguments for pot legalization. He stressed that low-level marijuana-related criminal offenses can be devastating for people.

“And of course, it stays on your criminal record. And that has negative consequences for as long as it is there,” said Weidenbach, 2nd Vice Chair for the La Crosse County Board.

Weidenbach also made the case that instead of coming from various sources, marijuana could be better regulated.

“So that we know what’s in it. Right? As opposed to black markets, of course, where we don’t really know,” Weidenbach said.

Dr. David Onsrud, director of addiction services at Mayo Clinic Health System, cited studies that found the drug could impair learning and memory.

“Marijuana can affect connectivity and that brain development causing some long-term problem,” Onsrud said.

He also told attendees that smoking pot could lead to using other addictive substances including tobacco or alcohol.

“There are so many people out there that tell you it’s a natural plant, it’s not harmful. That’s not true,” Onsrud said.

Now, it’s up to voters to consider these perspectives this election. Absentee voting in Wisconsin begins Oct. 15. The general election is Nov. 6.