EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday requesting that Wisconsin decriminalize or legalize recreational marijuana for people age 21 and over.
The resolution requires final approval from the Eau Claire County Board and will be considered at its June 15 meeting. If the County Board approves the resolution, nothing would immediately change in the county, since the decriminalization or legalization of recreational marijuana must be done by the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Supervisor Zoe Roberts authored the resolution, which she considers antiracism legislation because of the unequal impact marijuana offenses have had on people of color in Wisconsin.
Roberts said the resolution would also raise tax revenue and synchronize Wisconsin with its neighboring states that have similar laws.
“The decriminalization or making marijuana legal for recreational use will provide benefits to the state of Wisconsin in that it provides a cash crop for farmers, it will raise tax revenue, and it will bring Wisconsin in alignment with our neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan which have legalized marijuana in one form or another for either recreational or medicinal use,” Roberts wrote in a fact sheet.
Roberts and Supervisor Jerry Wilkie both said marijuana laws have had negative impacts on many people.
“This prohibition has needlessly damaged and destroyed the lives of millions, and it’s in our power to minimize the damage it does moving forward, at least on a small scale,” Roberts said.
Wilkie supported the resolution, saying he is in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana for ages 21 and over.
Wilkie mentioned the potential use of cannabis for personal pain management, noting that he recently had rotator cuff surgery and wished marijuana was legal.
“In a couple weeks I’m going to be 72 years old,” Wilkie said. “As I’m going through this aging process … I don’t want to become addicted to narcotics. I think marijuana is quite clearly a good alternative. I’m not afraid to say that publicly.”
A public commenter also supported the resolution. Chris Buske, a local small business owner of a CBD store, said some customers dealing with chronic pain, PTSD and autoimmune defects have found relief in cannabis.
“I see the daily need and desire from law-abiding citizens to have access to the medicinal properties of this plant,” Buske said.
Sheriff Ron Cramer said legalization likely wouldn’t raise much tax revenue and cautioned the committee on the potential for more potent marijuana to get into the hands of minors. Cramer also said the committee should receive more information on the health impacts of marijuana.
“I think this takes a further discussion, and I hope that we slow down and get some of the answers before we would push this to a vote for the County Board,” Cramer said.
Supervisor Connie Russell and Supervisor Sandra McKinney voiced some reluctance to support the resolution, but they ultimately voted in favor because they felt it should be considered by the 29-member County Board.
Separately, the committee tabled an amendment to the Eau Claire County ordinance that would make the forfeiture amount $1 for possession of marijuana. The committee will consider that ordinance amendment at its June meeting.
Capt. Dave Riewestahl with the Sheriff’s Office’s security services division informed the committee that the Eau Claire County Jail received two resignations from corrections officers this month and currently has five CO openings.
Riewestahl called it an ongoing challenge for the county to receive qualified applicants and hire quality corrections officers. He said that in 2019 the jail had around 70 applicants for open positions, but the latest vacancy only had about 20.
“We are seeing significantly fewer CO applicants along with even fewer showing up for interviews,” Riewestahl said. “Recruitment has turned into a nonstop endeavor that’s occupied a significant amount of our staff time.”
Riewestahl said this challenge is not unique to the county and is made worse by different law enforcement agencies vying to hire the same people from a shrinking pool of qualified applicants.
“(In) my opinion, this is a profession shortage,” Riewestahl said. “We are having trouble finding people who want to be in law enforcement … and we’re not alone.”
The next Judiciary and Law Enforcement Committee meeting is scheduled for June 23.