Balanced coverage: State bill to legalize marijuana


State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said Thursday legalizing marijuana could help what she calls Wisconsin's budget crisis.

So she has introduced a bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and over.

"Marijuana could be a powerful economic engine for our lagging economy. It will create jobs. It will generate revenue without increasing taxes," explained Sargent.

Sargent has brought forth similar bills in the past. This one is likely to be met with strong opposition.

State Senator. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, told FOX 11 News there are too many unknowns about legalizing the drug.

"Does it lead to be a gateway drug? Are young minors finding access to it more easily? Are there negative consequences, or are there really positive things? Do we find that the tax benefits from it make it worthwhile," he said.

Right now eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

Colorado, for example, did so in 2012. Here are some early numbers:

  • The state took in $129 million in tax revenue from sales of the drug in 2015.
  • According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, 94 Colorado drivers tested postive for THC, the drug in marijuana, in fatal car crashes in 2014, up from 37 in 2006.
  • According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, calls to poison control for children ingesting the drug went from 25 in 2013 to 47 in 2015.

"I don't think we should have the conversation until 2025 when we've had a decade's-worth of data to comb through and really understand how this will affect our society," said Roth of future numbers from states with legal marijuana.

The most recent Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

Sargent said other states' data has already proven the time is now.

"Tens of thousands of jobs have been created in those states. Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue has been brought in and billions of dollars in other economic benefits," she explained.

Gov. Scott Walker has said he is against legalizing marijuana.