Marijuana legalization: Will La Crosse Co. voters be asked to weigh-in?

La Crosse County Board to decide legal marijuana advisory referendum by end of July

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -- - The La Crosse County Board of Supervisors is continuing to consider the question of legalizing marijuana in the state. 

The board met Thursday afternoon to discuss the early stages of a possible ballot question and if it's something the board believes the community should answer in the November election. 

Nine states already have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes and 29 have legal medical marijuana legislation.     

Wisconsin is not on either of those lists, but the Wisconsin Justice Initiative is pushing for counties to hold advisory referendums on marijuana legalization. 

"It's really just starting that conversation," said Tara Johnson, La Crosse County Board chair. 

She said the question of whether to ask La Crosse County voters about legalizing marijuana remains a hot topic on the minds of the County Board.  

"We have an end of July deadline to put any question on the ballot," Johnson said. "And then it would be simply an advisory question." 

After the November election, the results would go the the state legislature and be up to the state to decide any further action. 

"There's no local legal decision to be made," Johnson said.  

She said many arguments have come out in favor of legal use, including the cost of those sitting in jail on marijuana charges.

"There are people are some people who think that we shouldn't be paying a $100 a day as taxpayers to have those folks in jail," Johnson said. 

UW-La Crosse political science professor Joe Heim said the understanding of marijuana continues to change. 

"In some respects if you were starting out from scratch, in other words you have no thoughts about what's good or bad, you would have a hard time arguing that marijuana is necessary better or worse than alcohol," Heim said. "If you arrested everybody that ever smoked marijuana, you would have very full jails." 

A poll by Marquette University's Law School found about 59 percent of Wisconsin voters agreed that marijuana should be fully legal and treated like alcohol. 

Local resident Barbara Wolff said she thinks there are plenty of useful medical purposes. 

"I believe that it has health benefits to many people and they should be allowed to get it," Wolff said. 

Heim said the nature of the topic comes down to politics. 

"Unfortunately, this is a liberal and conservative issue," Heim said. 

He said liberals tend to favor more freedom when it comes to the plant, while conservatives argue that it carries negative consequences. 

"As soon as you use the word 'drug,' some people get pretty upset especially older people," Heim said. 

If this question moves to the November ballot, Johnson said she hopes the state legislature considers the voters opinions.

"I am always hopeful that the state legislature values public opinion," Johnson said. 

Canada recently become the second country to legalize marijuana nationwide. 

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