FOND DU LAC – A referendum which would have offered questions on marijuana legalization to area voters by way of the Nov. 6 election went up in smoke Tuesday night.
Fond du Lac County Board of Supervisors, in a 15-8 vote, postponed the advisory referendum, which would have placed questions on the county-wide general ballot. Instead, the board favored sending the whole marijuana discourse to its committee on health and public safety.
Chairperson Martin Farrell said at this point it could not be brought back to the board for a vote in time to meet ballot preparation deadlines.
A passionate discussion prior to the vote included Matthew Sprague of Antigo and his 12-year-old son Matthew, who has suffered with a seizure disorder since birth. Sprague said his son is helped by marijuana but can only get treatments through a hospital study.
Health care worker Lynn Marie Kutz of Fond du Lac told the board many of her clients could be helped by the use of medical marijuana and social worker Joni VossHayibor, also of Fond du Lac, said many AODA counselors and professionals in her line of work believe cannabis should be removed from the federal government’s classification as a schedule 1 drug — the worst kind. Marijuana retains this classification despite being legal in some states and it being used as a medicinal drug in some states.
“Cocaine is a schedule 2 drug, and pot is more dangerous than crack cocaine? These are big political issues,” VossHayibor said.
The advisory referendum, brought forward by supervisors Mary Beth Hayes and Lizette Aldrich, points to a 2016 Marquette University Law School poll which shows 59 percent of Americans favor the legalization of adult recreational use of marijuana. More than 100 million Americans say they have used marijuana.
Supervisor Sam Kaufman called the referendum a “glorified survey,” and took issue with the cost — an estimated $7,500 to place three referendum advisory questions on the ballot.
The three advisory questions asked: 1) if marijuana should be legal for adult use, taxed and regulated like alcohol, with the proceeds from the taxes designated to provide treatment for substance addiction; 2) if marijuana should be legal for medical purposes only and available only by prescription through a medical dispensary; or 3) if marijuana should remain a criminally illegal drug as provided under current law?
“We could not give county employees a decent raise, and we are going to spend $7,500 to ask people if they want pot or not? This reeks of politics to me,” Kaufman said, adding that county residents would be better served if the board discussed repealing current county marijuana ordinances.
In Fond du Lac County, first offense possession of marijuana (less than 25 grams) comes with a hefty $263.50 fine, said Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Capt. Ryan Waldschmidt. Second or subsequent violations, or possession of amounts 25 grams or greater is a criminal misdemeanor arrest. Municipalities throughout the county may have differing fines, he said.
“On behalf of all the veterans, I’d like to see medical cannibus legalized,” said Fond du Lac resident Joseph Roberts. “We have been asking for a long time, and we need this as an alternative to opioid and alcohol issues.”
County Board Chairperson Martin Farrell limited the speakers to four from each side of the debate. Those who spoke in favor received applause from a group of marijuana supporters in the audience.
Incoming Assembly Representative for the 59th District Timothy Ramthun said action needs to be taken at the state level
“We can’t say let’s all do it and it will be OK. We need structure and control,” he said.
Jean L. Holzman of Fond du Lac spoke of the dangers legalization could inflict on young people, citing a report from Colorado of an increase in school-related offenses involving students since statewide legalization was put in place.
“Let’s not have kids seeking fulfillment through drugs and alcohol,” she said.
Another Fond du Lac resident, Eric Shady, said he has an out-of-state medical marijuana card but can’t use it because he can’t obtain marijuana through any legal means.
“Allow the people, let them be able to speak for themselves,” he said in support of the referendum.
Supervisor Marty Ryan, who made the motion to push the discussion to committee-level, said the topic needs to follow proper protocol so supervisors have input from other county leaders.
When contacted by USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, County Supervisor Allen Buechel said much money and commitment of staff time is given toward providing treatment for people with alcohol and drug addictions.
“If marijuana is legalized, my concern would be that the need for treatment would increase, and there would be more negative impacts on families, which is already a major problem. Some say that marijuana is not half as bad as other drugs. Even if it is only half as bad, do we still need it?” Buechel said.
When several comments were made about the statewide illegality of marijuana, making it a non-issue issue at the county level, Supervisor Tom Kitchen stated “That’s the whole point of this. When legislative bodies fail to act, people can encourage the state legislature to take action.”
Martin Schroeder, a supervisor who worked in the state prison system for 27 years, quotes from another report involving Colorado that indicated since pot was legalized, the state has experienced a 6 percent decrease in the number of opioid-related deaths.
“If opiate-related deaths are down six percent, what is marijuana a gate-way drug to? Let the people speak,” he said.
Votes in favor of postponement included: Gary Will, Karen Madigan, Michael Will, Sarah Everson, Michael Beer, Sam Kaufman, Robert Simon, Joe Koch, Ken Depperman, Dennis Stenz, Robert Giese, John Zorn, Dean Will, Martin Ryan and Judy Goldsmith.
Martin Farrell, Steven Abel, Martin Schroeder, Jay Myrechuck, Tom Kitchen, Lisette Aldrich, Brian Kolstad and Mary Beth Hayes, voted in favor of the resolution.
Joe Fenrick was excused from the meeting.