Advisory vote on marijuana is approved

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JANESVILLE - Rock County voters will be asked in the Nov. 6 general election whether or not they would support legalizing cannabis for adults in the state. A resolution passed 14-12 by the full Rock County Board on Thursday night will add an advisory referendum to the fall ballot that would serve as a benchmark for state lawmakers to evaluate public support for legal cannabis. The vote would not be legally binding and only state legislative changes could make cannabis legal in Wisconsin.

Supporters of legalizing cannabis in Wisconsin say it could add $138 million in annual revenue, according to the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Justice Initiative.

Board member Yuri Rashkin, who helped start the effort, said Thursday's vote was an important step in weighing public support for an evolving issue.

"I will take it," Rashkin said. "Everyone who wants the situation to change would rather have a close win than a close loss. We got through the first important step and getting that put on the ballot."

At the county's committee level on Wednesday, the resolution was tabled for a vote by the county board of health, allowing it to head to the full county board.

The resolution asks, "Should cannabis be legalized for adult use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes used for education, healthcare, and infrastructure?"

The move comes as other counties in Wisconsin are eying similar ballot questions. Voters in Milwaukee County will decide on a referendum asking a similar question regarding legal cannabis.

Michigan lawmakers approved a recreational cannabis legalization referendum for the Nov. 6 election, while it is already legal recreationally in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Lawmakers in Illinois have also relaxed medical cannabis requirements to allow patients to request the treatment option in lieu of painkiller prescriptions. Internationally, Canada has become the first G-7 country to legalize cannabis for recreational use, a plan set to take effect in October.

Supporters of legalizing cannabis say it could serve as a way of countering opioid-related deaths and adding much needed state revenue into local communities, while opponents caution against the move since the issue has yet to be researched in-depth at the federal level.

Heading into November, Rashkin said now is the time to inform the public of the impending vote.

"This is the time to make sure that people know it will be on the ballot," he said. "I think it's one of those things everyone has a position on."

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