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Wisconsin voters embrace pot; nearly 1 million vote yes on medical, recreational use

November 7, 2018

Wisconsin residents are closely divided on who should lead the state, but they agree in overwhelming numbers on pot.

Nearly a million voters in 16 counties and two cities answered yes on nonbinding referendums Tuesday asking if marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use.

With referendums in the five most populous counties, more than half the state’s population was able to weigh in on a total of 23 ballot measures, and every one of them passed by a wide margin.

On the question of recreational use, more than 644,000 voters said marijuana should be legalized at least for adults. Just under 281,000 people said no.

More than 375,000 voters - more than 81 percent - said marijuana should be available for medical use, while fewer than 89,000 disagreed.

The referendums were purely advisory; it would be up to the Legislature to pass any changes to state statutes, and marijuana remains a schedule 1 narcotic under federal law.

But the results show an appetite to follow in the steps of the 10 states that have legalized pot and 21 others that allow its use for medicinal purposes.

Michigan became the first Midwestern state to legalize recreational pot with passage of a statewide referendum Tuesday, while Missouri voters approved medical marijuana. In North Dakota, which allows medicinal marijuana, voters rejected a measure to legalize it for all uses.

Wisconsin’s closest contest was in Racine County, where just over 60 percent of voters said marijuana should be “legalized and regulated” for people over 21. (More than 80 percent of those same voters said it should be taxed, and almost 85 percent said it should be legalized for medical use.)

At the other end of the spectrum, more than 88 percent of voters in Kenosha County said yes to medical marijuna.

Recreational pot had the strongest support in Dane County.

Medical marijuana was equally popular in rural areas, with more than three quarters of voters in several northeastern counties signing off.

Republicans, including a spokesman for Attorney General Brad Schimel, who trails his Democratic challenger in a race that had yet to be called Wednesday, called the referendums “a ploy” to boost Democratic turnout.

But pot - at least medicinal - proved popular in red counties too, including Clark County, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker got nearly two thirds of the votes.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, a group that advocates on criminal justice issues and helped coordinate the placement of the referendums, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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