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MADISON, Wi. – A referendum on Dane County’s April 1
ballot will pose a “yes or no” question to voters: should the state government
enact policies to legalize marijuana?
While the referendum is only advisory in nature, it
coincides with a bill introduced by Representative Melissa Sargent to legalize
pot for medicinal and recreational purposes.
The bill was just assigned to committee and will not have a hearing
until next session at the earliest.
However, Sargent said with national acceptance of
marijuana spreading, now is the time to open up the conversation.
“It became really apparent that the most dangerous thing
about marijuana in our society is that it's illegal, and we need to change that
conversation and change that dialogue,” Sargent said.
The bill, which has seven co-sponsors, sets the legal age
for marijuana use at 21. Stores that
would sell marijuana would have to be licensed like liquor stores require to
sell alcohol. Marijuana would also be
taxed similarly to the way tobacco and alcohol is under the bill, according to
“I don't believe this is a matter of if this is going to
happen. I think it's going to be a
matter of when,” Sargent said.
Dane County Supervisor Leland Pan pushed for a referendum
on the issue for the spring ballot. He
said there are economic benefits to legalizing and taxing pot. He added the scope of using the substance
would become safer, and it would help scale back serious street crime and
prison time associated with marijuana use.
Pan added some politicians privately support marijuana
legalization, but are unsure about supporting those beliefs through
“So a referendum in Dane County, I think, would really
help send a message that this is an issue that we can safely talk about,” Pan
explained, “and that those in elected office and those in power should know
that this is an issue that's gaining traction and gaining visibility and
Republican Party of Dane County chair Scott Grabins said
the motivation behind certain referendums are sometimes not what they seem to
be. He said he has seen politics push
questions onto the ballot before, and this marijuana issue might fall into that
“I think they have a very specific agenda here,” Grabins
said. “I think it goes back to the
Republicans having control on the state level and wanting to have that
opportunity to perhaps have a voice there and try to dictate to the state some
Grabins said throwing something like pot into the
election pulls focus from where it needs to be, while possibly pushing more
liberal voters to the polls when turnout is known to be low.
“Perhaps that's why we don't see it in other counties
because they're focused on what a county should do rather than trying to
dictate policy to the state,” Grabins said.
Pan maintained the only reason the county is posing the
question to voters is Sargent’s bill and the timely nature of the topic.
“I don't need to play political games to turn out
progressive voters. I just need to get
my message heard,” Pan said.
Tuesday, March 25 2014, 10:12 PM CDT
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