Future of Marijuana in Wisconsin remains hazy
According to a Marquette study, 64% of registered voters in Wisconsin support legalization of marijuana. But, is it close to happening?
"How is Wisconsin not ready for recreational?" said Michael Hanson, an Air Force and Army Vet.
Michael Hanson struggled with PTSD after his tours in Afghanistan, the loss of his mother and a divorce.
That's when he turned to alcohol.
"I was already going down that path to be completely honest with you," said Hanson.
He goes on to say therapy, the help of his friends, and cannabis helped curb that problem, and he's glad it didn't go further.
"It wasn't xanax, wasn't alcohol, wasn't molly, wasn't heroin. It easily could've been. Easily," said Hanson.
Turning to marijuana helped deal with the emotions he was feeling, but knows it takes more than just the effects of cannabis.
"It doesn't get rid of anxiety, there's no cure all," said Hanson. "Marijuana doesn't cure everything, but by the grace of god, it cuts of that edge man. That's all a human being really needs, to cut the edge."
Hanson is not alone. Mitch Craven, owner of Alleviate Wellness in Stevens Point, has had his own struggles, and found refuge and a passion in cannabis.
"I've used cannabis in the past for my own bipolar, and was able to get off prescription medications myself," said Craven. "I really started the store with the passion for the plant and through that, and all the stories, and the feedback we've gotten, it gives me goosebumps."
Alleviate Wellness now sells THC products, which are legal as long as it's derived from hemp. Just like Hanson, Craven sells to many looking for that same relief.
"Veterans with PTSD, new mothers that have post-partum depression, people that are having problems with sleeping, Alzheimer's, you know the list goes on and on," said Craven.
So what is the difference between hemp and marijuana? It is the same plant, but hemp contains less than 0.3% THC, while marijuana is anything over that.
Which is why Craven, as well as distributers, are able to sell THC infused products. Carbon Cannabis in La Crosse has been fighting for legalization since they became official in 2019. Now, they say they're doing well, but see flaws in Wisconsin's current system.
"The hemp industry is running full speed ahead in Wisconsin and it's completely unregulated," said Austin Wszolek, founder of Carbon Cannabis. "There's no consumer safety whatsoever. There's no requirements for testing, there's no requirements to make sure it's a Wisconsin grown product."
Wszolek says safety should be at the forefront when deciding legalization, making sure small businesses benefit, as well as holding other producers responsible for making sure their products are actually what they say they are.
"It sounds crazy, but I'd love to see some regulation," said Wszolek.
While people report positive effects of using marijuana, experts say there are risks associated. According to the CDC, marijuana can be especially harmful on brain development and function for youth. It can also worsen mental health for others and hurt the heart and lungs.
So how far out could legislation be? Right now, there's a stalemate in the state legislature.
Democrats, including Governor Tony Evers, have been pushing legalization for recreational and medical marijuana. Some republicans do support medical marijuana, including state Senator, Patrick Testin.
"When my grandpa was dying of cancer, he had to go outside the law and use marijuana, and was one of the very few things that would help get his appetite back," said Testin.
But Testin says the issue becomes a concern for him with recreational use.
"I think we have to be careful, be mindful, and ensure that it's not falling into the wrong hands which is one of my primary concerns," said Testin.
With no clear answer, some are left wondering how long they'll wait it out.
With Michigan and Illinois already legalizing full recreational and medical use, and Minnesota as well as Iowa not to far behind, cannabis business and users will consider moving to other states to run business.
"Unfortunately the end-all-be-all to that is that we would end up moving to Minnesota," said Wszolek.
In Gov. Evers' plan for the next bi-annual budget, he mentioned he would like to see the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana.
Sales statistic shows marijuana is big business.
In December of 2022 alone, Michigan recreational marijuana sales topped over $200 million dollars while Illinois tallied $143.9 million according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum. The study goes on to say that 15% of Illinois marijuana sales were at dispensaries that border Wisconsin.
In Michigan, the tax dollars went to counties, municipalities, schools, and transportation.