Gov. Evers to prioritize marijuana legalization if reelected, putting him at odds with GOP opponent Tim Michels

NOW: Gov. Evers to prioritize marijuana legalization if reelected, putting him at odds with GOP opponent Tim Michels

MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers is vowing to again include cannabis legalization in the next state budget if reelected, a position that puts him at odds with his Republican opponent Tim Michels and a majority of voters who back easing marijuana laws.

Gov. Evers, who's in a tight reelection fight, is looking to grow support among voters by introducing again a budget proposal to allow those aged 21 and up to purchase recreational marijuana. It's estimated to generate $166 million in revenue, according to Evers officials.

The chances of legalizing marijuana in the battleground state is unlikely with GOP leaders and members of the GOP-controlled Legislature against it.

Construction executive Tim Michels' views on marijuana also falls in line with Republican lawmakers.

In May, Michels said he doesn't support marijuana legalization, calling it a "slippery slope" during a WTAQ radio interview.

In a statement, Evers said he wants to treat marijuana like alcohol "so we can continue to compete for talented workers to come to our state, expand access to medical treatment for thousands, and have more resources to invest in critical state priorities like K-12 education.”

For 10 years, Democratic Senator Melissa Agard of Madison has long advocated for marijuana legalization. She said now is the time to act to join and compete with neighboring states who are collecting millions in profit.

"It's a real misfire for the state to continue to avoid this conversation," Agard said. "Wisconsinites are willing to take time out of their day to spend their hard-earned tax dollars in other states and spend it to buy cannabis legally."

The Evers administration estimates the plan would generate about $165 million beginning in July of 2024, money Evers wants to reinvest in K-12 schools.

Cannabis sales in Illinois saw a 50% increase from fiscal year 2021 to 2022. That's nearly $450 million in tax revenue from $1.5 billion in recreational marijuana sales.

UW-Madison student Ferris Wolf supports legalization and the benefits it could bring to the state.

"If you were to make it legal, it can open up a huge business opportunity for a lot of companies to make money," Wolfe said. "I feel there would also be much safer opportunities for people to use it recreationally and medically."

The concept is popular among a majority of voters. Nearly 70% support legalizing marijuana, including a majority of Republicans and Independents, according to a Marquette University Law School Poll last month. Twenty-three percent said they oppose marijuana legalization.

"I'm against drug use, but for a safer way for people to have access to it I think it would most likely be wise for it to be legal," said UW-Madison student Reid Morauske.

GOP leaders have strong opposition against full legalization, but some are open to using marijuana for medical purposes.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has signaled support for medical marijuana in some forms. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) told CBS 58 last year he's not open to legalizing marijuana since it's still illegal on the federal level.

State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, a cancer survivor, has tried to push her medical marijuana bill through the legislature but it has faced an uphill battle within her caucus. For the first time in over a decade, Felzkowski's bill to legalize medical cannabis in some forms received its first public hearing.

“I remain committed to working on my medical marijuana legislation, prioritizing Wisconsinites who are suffering and in pain," the Republican Senator from Irma said in a statement.

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