On June 18, 2018, the Administration Committee of the St. Croix County Board voted to recommend placing a non-binding referendum item seeking public opinion on the legalization of Marijuana onto the November election ballot. This significant action was taken after a total of just over four minutes of discussion, and without gathering additional input or feedback from any other County departments, such as the Sheriff’s office or District Attorney, or from any of the other standing committees such as Public Safety or Health and Human Services.

The text of the proposed referendum question, along with supporting background information, is listed in a memorandum that is included in the Committee agenda packet, and appears to have been drafted by the Wisconsin Justice Initiative (WJI), an organization that describes itself as
a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to reducing mass incarceration.

The referendum proposed by the Administration Committee will have three possible options, and will read as follows:

Should cannabis: (Please select only one of the alternatives below or your vote will be invalid)
_______(a) Be legal for adult use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure in Wisconsin?
_______(b) Be legal for medical purposes only and available only by prescription through a medical dispensary?
_______(c) Remain a criminally illegal drug as provided under current law?

The Administration Committee is recommending that this referendum item be forwarded to the full County Board for discussion and inclusion on the November ballot at its August 7th Regular Meeting.

Meeting Details

The memorandum containing the background and question phrasing was introduced for discussion by Supervisor Tammy Moothedan of Hudson District 7. She briefly outlined her rationale for introducing the item before handing off additional justification for it to Supervisor Roy Sjoberg of Hudson District 5. Sup. Moothedan stated that her primary reason for recommending the referendum was that the “State of Wisconsin will likely be looking at this issue in the future”, and because “Milwaukee County has passed this to go on their ballot”, “Dane County and Rock County are also very likely”, “Eau Claire and LaCrosse County are… in this process of looking at it”.

She went on to state “This isn’t about whether we think we should have recreational legalization for Marijuana or medical legalization, this is really about do we want St. Croix County to have their say along with these other Counties when the State is looking at this issue”

At present, the State Legislature has no plans to take up the future legalization of marijuana following the failure of House Bill AB482. This bill would have, among other things, permitted Wisconsin residents over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces of marijuana, and set up a framework for issuing permits to sell and tax marijuana sales for both medical, and recreational uses. AB482 was sponsored by 18 Democrats, and was not considered at all during the 2017-2018 legislative session. The bill died when the session was adjourned on March 28.

Following Tammy Moothedan’s meritless rationale, Supervisor Roy Sjoberg spoke in strong support of not only putting the referendum item onto the ballot, but also for voting to legalize marijuana when the referendum item is on the ballot. In the process, he also largely negated Sup. Moothedan’s premise by recognizing that the issue has not come up in the legislature at all. Sjoberg said: “I’ll probably speak out in favor of it’s passage at some time in the future… the referendum vote itself… but for right now, I just would like to have the opportunity for the voters to chime in on this, and if there’s a 60% in favor / 40 against at the St. Croix County Level, then I would expect the legislators to be a little bit more serious about taking this up, because it hasn’t come up at all in the legislature”.

Sjoberg also stated: “I did some research… I went to a web site offered by a non-profit organization called the Wisconsin Justice Initiative… this is coming up because of the studies they’ve done on who gets thrown in jail for second offenses of possession of marijuana, which is a felony in the State of Wisconsin, and it’s not a felony in most other states. So it happens to be, based upon their data that 88% of the people who are arrested on this happen to be black. And, that type of statistic at least causes me to want to discuss this, and bring it to the public’s attention.” “Right now, it hasn’t come up in the legislature, meanwhile, a lot of young black people are serving time, and serving time costs a lot of money.”

Upon completion of his comments, Sup. Sjoberg immediately motioned to have the committee vote to recommend and forward the memorandum regarding putting a referendum item on the November ballot to the full Board for consideration and a vote at the August Regular Meeting. He also recommended that the item be forwarded separately to the Public Protection committee in tandem with presenting it directly to the full Board.

Supervisor Dan Fosterling then noted that the exact text of the referendum question should at least be specified before forwarding to the Board. He amended Sup. Sjoberg’s motion to specify the 3 part response option as the specific text to be considered. Committee Chair Dave Peterson expressed his desire to also forward the item to the Health & Human Services committee for their input before sending it to the full Board, but quickly backtracked saying that it could be forwarded to both additional committees at the same time it was forwarded to the full board.

After some additional clarifications, input from County Administrator Patrick Thompson indicated that if this item was not acted on at the August Regular Board meeting, it would not meet the deadline for inclusion on the November ballot. Following the discussion, in a 4-1 vote with Sup. Dan Fosterling dissenting, the committee chose to forward the referendum item directly to the full County Board without any further input or guidance from other departments or subject matter experts.

The Problems

This raises a major red flag as to the true motivation for taking such a hasty action, when there is absolutely no logical reason to rush such a major issue to a referendum, and certainly warrants a closer look at the facts as presented. An examination of the information presented reveals that it is based largely on unsubstantiated statements, half truths, speculation, and conjecture. The disturbing reality is that it is being presented to our elected representatives as fact, and they will be asked to make policy decisions based on it.

Tammy Moothedan’s base premise for introducing the item is completely without merit.

Assertion: In her opening statement, as her primary rationale for introducing the item she stated “I asked that this be something we look at because State of Wisconsin will likely be looking at this issue in the future”

Fact: The State Legislature has not considered taking up the topic of legalizing marijuana, and there are no current plans to do so in the future. Therefore, there is no urgency to send this directly to the full Board without having other documented feedback from other County departments and Committees

Assertion: “Milwaukee County has passed this to go on their ballot”, “Dane County and Rock County are also very likely”, “Eau Claire and LaCrosse County are… in this process of looking at it”. Because other Counties have passed similar referendum ballot initiatives, so should St. Croix County

Fact: St. Croix County should carefully evaluate what’s right for St. Croix County. What other Counties have done or may do in this regard has no bearing whatsoever.

Roy Sjoberg’s “research” consists of presenting only partial, distorted information from the one heavily biased source he referenced.

Assertion: 88% of people who are arrested on a felony second marijuana possession charge are black, which is inherently unfair. Because of this injustice, State Legislators should act to legalize marijuana.

Fact: What Roy fails to mention (aside from inflating the number actually published) is that the study he referenced only includes a count of the few cases where there was a felony charge, and only reflects one County (Milwaukee) in the State. It does not evaluate the details or ethnicities of the larger number of cases where second possessions are not charged as felonies.

The same referenced article also clarifies that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm notes that “The numbers of second possession marijuana cases issued in Milwaukee County has dropped dramatically over the years. He said his office generally does not charge second offense marijuana possession as a felony unless the offender has a previous felony or there is some other circumstance, such as having a gun when the marijuana is found. Evidence that drug distribution is involved also can influence a decision.”

Furthermore, the same article quotes Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Altenberg as saying “We work very hard not to charge someone with their first felony offense with a second possession” unless there is some indication of violence” Both men said the district attorney’s office has carefully reviewed its track record in charging second possession cases. A more rational approach to solving this specific issue would be to advocate for modifying the second offence law before promoting the legalization of marijuana in general.

Certainly, the distorted presentation of Roy’s single source “research” warrants a bit more corroboration before being used as a prime rationale for bypassing any other input on advancing this important referendum topic.

The memorandum presented to the Committee contains numerous unsubstantiated and potentially dangerous opinions as fact.

The background information contained in the WJI’s memorandum included in the Admin Committee packet contains completely unsubstantiated statements as fact, which the Admin committee has now placed into the public record as part of its position on recommending a referendum item to the full County Board. These Include:

“Cannabis is a safe product for sale and distribution.”

“The economic benefit of cannabis legalization in Wisconsin will be substantial and immediate.”

“Taking cannabis off of the street and putting it behind a government regulated counter would also have a positive effect on Wisconsin citizens.”

“[Legalization of] cannabis could help decrease Wisconsin’s incarceration rates at both the state and local levels saving state and local tax payers millions of dollars.”

“Legalization would lead to reductions in unnecessary, harassing traffic and pedestrian stops.”

These statements, along with others in the document, are opinion, and cannot be substantiated as factual, but yet, have been presented as such in the Administration Committee agenda packet, and will presumably be forwarded to the full Board for consideration. These statements go well beyond the stated intent of “allowing the public to express their opinion”, and are a clear statement of marijuana legalization advocacy.

In summary, this important topic deserves, and should receive, much more due diligence on the part of our elected officials before being placed on the November election ballot as a referendum. To recommend this action after four minutes of discussion, and no input from any other County entity is truly “half baked”, and begs the question… “Are you high?”