Following the introduction of Senate Bill 486, a cannabis legalization bill first introduced two months ago, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue released a fiscal report of the impact of legalization.
So far, SB 486 has received one Senate reading on Oct. 9, two additional cosponsors, and a fiscal estimate first published on Oct. 25.
Wisconsin has no data to build off of any existing cannabis industry but it used data from neighboring states of Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota to get a better idea of the effects and potential benefits of legalization. “All three states generate revenues through a variety of permits/licensing fees and excise taxes on retail sales (medical exempted), in addition Illinois imposes an excise tax on sales by growers to retailers,” the report stated. “Minnesota which legalized marijuana this year offers no historical data to estimate sales and tax revenues.”
The report stated that a 15% excise tax revenue in Wisconsin could generate up to $24.6 million in the first year, followed by $48.6 million in the second year, and $60.1 million in the third year. Additionally, a 10% excise tax on cannabis retailers could net up to $19.1 million in the first year, $47.3 million in the second year, and $64.9 million in the third year.
A 5% state general sales tax on cannabis would also show a collection of $9.5 million in the first year, $23.6 million in the second year, and finally $41.7 million in the third year.
Wisconsin also lumps together county tax estimates, along with a “stadium tax,” or baseball stadium tax for the counties of Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington, and Waukesha. Together, this 9.6% state sales could collect up to $0.9 million in the first year, $2.3 million in the second year, and $3.1 million in the third year. Additionally, the report mentions Milwaukee-specific sales tax of 2.5%, for $0.2 million in the first year, $0.6 million for the second, and $0.8 million for the third.
Rough totals per year include $54.3 million for the first year, $122.8 for the second year, and $170.5 million for the third year.
The fees include administrative and staffing requirements, which would cost $4 million to implement, and an additional $4.5 million for expanding staff later on.
The legalization effort was launched by Sen. Leader Melissa Agard and Rep. Darrin B. Madison, Agard announced SB 486 in September. “I’ve said this time and time again, we know that the most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin is that it remains illegal.” Agard said in a press statement. “For the past decade, I have worked to undo Wisconsin’s antiquated and deeply unjust marijuana policies and put our state on a prosperous path forward.”
SB 486 would legalize possession of cannabis for residents over 21 years of age, and establish a regulatory foundation for cultivation, production, and sales.
Agard noted that people in Wisconsin are traveling to other local states to get access to cannabis products. “Right now, we are seeing our hard-earned money go across the border to Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year,” Agard said. “That is money we could be reinvesting to help support our friends and neighbors and make our state a place where people want to live, work, and play.”
Madison also said in a statement that it is the right of citizens to be able to purchase and consume cannabis safely without fear of criminalization. “According to the ACLU, Black people were 4.24 times more likely to be arrested than white people in Wisconsin during 2018,” Madison said. “Similar disparities exist in convictions, leading to immeasurable harm to black communities in Wisconsin. The bill we’ve introduced today lays a solid foundation for those that have been harshly convicted for non-violent possession charges and the ramifications of those convictions.”
Earlier this year in March, a report showed that the state of Illinois has collected $36.1 million in tax revenue from Wisconsin residents crossing state lines to purchase cannabis legally. “It should upset every Wisconsinite that our hard earned tax dollars are going across the border to Illinois,” Agard stated. “This is revenue that could be going toward Wisconsin’s public schools, transportation infrastructure, and public safety. Instead, Illinois is reaping the benefits of Republican obstructionism and their prohibitionist stance on marijuana legalization.”
Later in August, Agard congratulated the state of Minnesota on the launch of legal cannabis sales, and called for the same to happen in Wisconsin soon as well. “Wisconsin is an island of prohibition. Now, approximately 700 miles of Wisconsin land borders a state with legal cannabis,” Agard said. “Choosing to ignore this issue, as my Republican colleagues continue to do, is not a winning position.”
Wisconsin is making progress, but it’s not likely that SB 486 will pass due to strong opposition from legislators. But those individuals’ opinions don’t match that of Wisconsinites, with 64% of registered voters supporting legalization, according to a November 2022 poll. In those results, 82% of Democrats said they supported legalization, along with 75% of independents, but only 43% of Republicans. In order for SB 486 to proceed, it must be approved by the legislature, which currently consists of a Republican majority.
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