Voters to weigh in on medicinal marijuana, gerrymandering referendums
Along with making the final call on both state and local races tomorrow, Lincoln County voters will be asked to decide on two advisory referendums referencing “gerrymandering” (to divide or arrange into political units to give special advantages to one group) and the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
The first question pitched to voters on the ballot will read:
“Should the Wisconsin legislature create a nonpartisan procedure for the preparation of legislative and congressional redistricting plans?” followed by question #2:
“Should the State of Wisconsin allow individuals with debilitating medical conditions to use and safely access marijuana for medical purposes, if those individuals have a written recommendation from a licensed Wisconsin physician?”
Resolutions for each referendum garnered significant support from the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors in August, passing 19-3 (District 1 Supervisor Bill Bialecki, District 8 Supervisor Christopher Heller and District 9 Supervisor Bill Zeitz dissented) and voice vote, respectively.
District 12 supervisor Paul Gilk drafted the resolution for the medical marijuana referendum on Aug. 21.
“There is a sort of prejudice in this country that borders on hysteria regarding marijuana in general, including medicinal marijuana. States in the country are a wash when it comes to alcohol, but marijuana is considered to be so much worse for some reason,” Gilk stated last week in an interview with the Merrill Foto News. “I had heard anecdotally, there have been people who have found benefits from medicinal marijuana and its derivatives, for various ailments such as migraines, chronic pain and even cancer. It just seemed to be something that should be brought to the attention of the voters. It doesn’t hurt to find out how people feel about this, after all, it is only an advisory referendum. It’s not the county board has any immediate authority on this.
“I wasn’t sure which way the vote would go in August, I thought it would pass but I was surprised by the large margin that it did,” Gilk added. “I think the reaction of the board is indicative that skepticism surrounding marijuana is starting to fade. It’s really become an issue of ‘we’ve been there, talked about this, lets move on.’ It could be a generational thing too, overall I think it’s a positive statement to have the board overwhelmingly in favor.”
If the advisory makes its way to Madison, Gilk is hopeful both from a local perspective as well as what it could mean for the state in terms of a possible future revenue source.
“If this goes to Madison and it’s actually legalized for medicinal purposes, or marijuana is legalized for recreational use, it would be a statement of Wisconsin falling in line with a growing number of states who have legalized it and have generated substantial tax revenue,” he said. “In terms of a local level, people who have heard about the benefits and have a need, can begin conversations with their care providers on how their respective medical conditions could benefit from marijuana-based treatments.”
As for the gerrymandering issue and the related advisory referendum, last year Lincoln County joined 39 of the state’s 72 counties in passing resolutions in support of Nonpartisan Legislative and Congressional Redistricting. On March 21, 2017, the Lincoln County Board passed the resolution by 18-4 vote; Zeitz again stood opposed, joined by Bialecki, former District 13 Supervisor Kirby Crosby and former District 10 Supervisor Loretta Baughan.
District 11 Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser has been a strong proponent of non-partisan congressional redistricting and played an integral role in bringing resolutions to the board both last March and this past August.
“I’ve felt that the gerrymandering is one of two roots of all evils for a number of years,” he explains. “Early last year I thought I would use my position on the Lincoln County Board to help educate people about the issue and maybe even effect some change, so I drafted an advisory resolution which I took to the county’s Administrative and Legislative Committee.”
“It passed there and also passed overwhelmingly at the County Board in March 2017,” Breitenmoster added. “I then reached out to others around the state to tell the story and that’s when my phone started ringing and my inbox started to fill with inquiries from other county board supervisors wanting to know how they could get this done in their counties. I don’t want to make it sound like I came up with the idea, because there were a handful of counties who had passed similar resolutions a few years prior. But Lincoln County’s was the first in 2017 and there have been dozens since.”
Whether the measure passes or not, Breitenmoser further views the referendum as another method for voters to speak directly to Madison lawmakers.
“Putting it on the ballot gives everyone a chance to voice their opinion, but beyond that I think it puts a little pressure on our politicians,” Breitenmoser said.
“The leadership in the Republican Party in Wisconsin does not want this system to change. And frankly if the Democrats were in control I worry their leadership would feel the same way. Our Assembly representatives and Senators know how their party leadership feels. This gives us a chance to tell them how we feel, at which point they can make a choice. They can either work for their party or work for their constituents, you know… ‘the People.’ I’m proud the board passed this. It shows that this is a concern of people left and right of center. And it shows that the board understands the bigger picture.”