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La Crosse leaders make push for marijuana legalization on 4/20

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Rally for cannabis reform

La Crosse County Board of Supervisors chair Monica Kruse speaks at a rally on Tuesday in support of legalizing cannabis in Wisconsin. She was there to support the cause independently, not on behalf of the county.

A group of local leaders and advocates held a rally Tuesday in North Side La Crosse in support of legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin, hosting it on 4/20, an unofficial annual holiday celebrating the plant and its uses.

The event was hosted at the new location of Tree Huggers Co-Op in partnership with Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Leaders Igniting Transformation. Speakers included local farmer and La Crosse County Board Chair Monica Kruse who spoke about the possible benefits that could come from reform.

Specifically, the speakers showed enthusiasm that Gov. Tony Evers included legalization in his upcoming budget, and encouraged those in support of reform to contact local and state officials.

But they also touched on the various sectors that legalization would impact, including job growth, tax revenue, infrastructure, racial justice, sustainability, the farming industry, incarceration, tourism and more, stating that Wisconsin is missing out on an economic and social boom that other states are seeing.

“I love my home state of Wisconsin, but year after year I am disappointed that we do not enact sensible cannabis reform. For the sake of our citizens and for allowing us as a state to thrive like so many other states,” said Dillon Beyer, co-owner of Tree Huggers and lifelong resident of La Crosse.

“It’s time for our elected officials to do their job and listen to the voices of Wisconsinites and enact sensible reform,” Beyer said.

Currently Wisconsin is a midwest “island” when it comes to cannabis reform, as the states surrounding the dairy state have taken steps to legalize.

A 2018 referendum polling more than half of Wisconsinites on the issue found that residents overwhelmingly support legalizing both medicinal and recreational cannabis, and a 2019 Marquette University Law School poll found 83% supported medicinal, while 59% supported recreational.

In La Crosse County specifically, 63% of voters supported recreational legalization.

“We have seen the tax boom that other states have reaped from regulating marijuana,” said Kruse, who said she has used cannabis in the past but no longer does and was there to support the cause independently and not on behalf of the county.

“It makes no sense for us to be an island,” Kruse said. “Wisconsinites are flocking to other states with marijuana tourism, they’re buying the product anyway. They should be buying it from Wisconsin growers and Wisconsin businesses and that money should be staying in Wisconsin to do good here.”

Evers’ estimated in his budget proposal that legalizing cannabis would generate $165 million annually for the state, which he proposes to use for rural schools and underserved communities.

Monica Kruse

Kruse

Other speakers at the event included Ettrick hemp farmer Marcus Stallings of Nubreed Equity Acres and Wisconsin Hemp Farmers and Manufacturers Association, who said that legalizing cannabis could help breathe new life into the state’s farming industry.

He noted that farming hemp, which is a plant in the cannabis family that has a low amount of THC, has its benefits and is an easier crop to grow organically, typically does not need crop rotation and has a stronger financial output than other crops.

Jaiya Edwards, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse student and fellow with Leaders Igniting Transformation, also spoke, emphasizing the relationship between equity and cannabis reform.

“Cannabis legalization has always been a racial justice issue,” Edwards said, pointing to policing and immigration practices using cannabis laws.

Edwards also pointed to a 2020 ACLU study that found Black Americans are four times as likely to be arrested for cannabis than others, despite similar rates of usage.

“Cannabis is used at similar rates among white and Black folks across America, but Black and brown people are disproportionately targeted and harmed by its criminalization,” Edwards said.

In addition, four counties in Wisconsin are among the top 20 counties in the country for racial disparities in arrests for cannabis possession.

“From Michigan to Minnesota, Illinois to even Iowa — cannabis is available in either recreational form or medical or both. Wisconsin however continues to lag behind in reforming its policies,” she said.

It’s unlikely the measure to legalize cannabis in Wisconsin will pass through the current Republican-controlled state Legislature, a partisan barrier that advocates hope to topple.

“I don’t know at this point what we can do other than vote them out,” Kruse said, who said regulating cannabis is similar to regulating alcohol.

Locally, Kruse said that more could be done while waiting on the state’s move, including looking at decriminalizing it in La Crosse, which is not legalization but instead removes criminal consequences from possessing and using it.

“I think we should do likewise,” Kruse said.

The city of La Crosse recently adopted a new ordinance that shrunk the fine amount for cannabis possession of 25 grams or less to just $1, though one leader at Thursday’s rally called it a “small, small” step towards reform.

Evers’ budget will make its way through editing and votes in the coming weeks and months before final approval.

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"I love my home state of Wisconsin, but year after year I am disappointed that we do not enact sensible cannabis reform. For the sake of our citizens and for allowing us as a state to thrive like so many other states." 

Dillon Beyer, co-owner of Tree Huggers and lifelong resident of La Crosse.

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