Wisconsin is finding out the consequences of not legalizing marijuana. Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers. 

Map of Wisconsin, Polygonal mesh line map, flag map

A legislative analysis requested by a Wisconsin senator shows that residents purchased over $121 million worth of marijuana from legal retailers in the neighboring state of Illinois contributing about $36 million in tax revenue. 

The Analysis Conducted Regarding Wisconsin Residents Spend Millions at Illinois Cannabis Retailers

The analysis conducted regarding Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers was requested by Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D). Agard has previously sponsored legalization legislation in past sessions. She asked the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) to study how much money Wisconsin residents were spending on Illinois cannabis products. 

The findings, which were released last week, showed Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers to the tune of $121.2 million. 

The analysts reviewed data from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) to come up with this number. The organization tracks monthly in-state and out-of-state cannabis sales and provides county-by-county breakdowns. 

Its estimates are based on the assumption that all out-of-state marijuana purchases in counties bordering Wisconsin are made by Wisconsonites. However, it’s possible that the number found of Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers could be higher or lower based on a variety of factors. 

For example, it’s possible that a portion of the amount Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers is coming from people in other nearby states like Iowa. Another consideration is that Wisconsin residents may have paid for cannabis in Illinois counties that don’t directly border their state. 

The analysis also does not account for potential sales in other adult-use states near Wisconsin. 

However, it gives lawmakers a basic idea of how much Wisconsin is losing by not legalizing marijuana. 

What Argard is Saying Concerning Wisconsin Residents Spend Millions at Illinois Cannabis Retailers

Argard is dismayed at the findings of the Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers analysis, and she is being vocal about it. 

“Wisonsin’s outdated marijuana laws are costing us so much more than $36 million- lives are being disrupted- but this is so upsetting to see Winsonsonites hard-earned tax dollars going to Illinois because WI GOP refuses to listen to the will of the people,” she wrote in a Tweet. 

She also stated the following about Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers in a press release. 

“It should upset every Wisconsinite that our hard-earned tax dollars are going across the border to Illinois. This is revenue that could be going toward Wisonsin’s public schools, transportation infrastructure, and public safety. Instead, Illinois is reaping the benefits of Republican obstructionism and their prohibitionist stance on marijuana legalization. 

“We are an island of prohibition and the people of our state are hurting because of it. As seen in our neighboring states, legalizing marijuana for responsible adult usage will generate significant revenue for our mainstreets, safely regulate the existing illicit market, reinvest in our agriculture and farming heritage, support entrepreneurship, and address the massive and egregious racial disparities from marijuana prohibition.”

Studies and Measures Taken to Bring Light to the Subject

The recent analysis was not the only step taken to bring light to the issue of Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers. A separate report published last month by Wisconsin Policy Forum revealed that 50% of Wisconsin adults live within 75 minutes of an out-of-state cannabis retailer. That percentage will increase if legislative efforts to legalize marijuana in the neighboring state of Minnesota are successful this session. 

Gov. Tony Evers (D), released his biennial budget request last month which again included language to legalize marijuana on a medical and recreational level. 

He had previously stated that he planned to put an adult-use measure in his request despite GOP top lawmakers warning that this measure could compromise more modest cannabis legalization measures. 

Agard showed her support saying if “Republicans choose to remove it from the budget, I will once again introduce my bill to achieve this goal”. It’s “high time we get this done for the betterment of our state and the people living here,” she added. 

“The fundamental aspect of our job as legislators is to listen to the people we represent. The people of Wisconsin have been asking the legislature to take up common-sense measures that will push our state forward. We know that legalizing cannabis for responsible adult use is wildly popular among Wisonsinities including the majority of Republicans,” she went on to say. 

Senator Chris Larson is also backing legalization efforts tweeting, “Wisconsin residents spent $36 million in tax revenue and $121 million in total sales to Illinois last year because Republicans in our state refuse to legalize marijuana. It’s past time we joined our neighbors in legalizing cannabis.” 

The Governor crunched numbers in his budget request and estimated that the state could generate $44.4 million in “segregated tax revenue” from legalizing cannabis and $10.2 million in state general fund tax revenue in 2025 if weed is legalized. 

He included adult-use and medical marijuana legislation in his 2021 budget and decriminalization and medical marijuana in his 2019 proposal but was consistently blocked by conservative legislation. 

Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R)  said in January that the Governor’s proposals could poison the well for a more modest policy of decriminalization and/or legalizing medical weed only. 

The governor said he was encouraged by the Senate leader’s remarks on legalizing medical marijuana and is prepared to sign it into legislation as long as the measures aren’t too restrictive. 

While some lawmakers have filed bills to legalize cannabis use for adults, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke said the legislation is “likely” to happen at some point, even modest measures such as decriminalization and the legalization of medical marijuana are yet to occur. 

Current Wisconsin Marijuana Laws

Currently, marijuana possession in Wisconsin is punishable by a maximum $1000 fine and up to six months in jail for a first offense. Subsequent offenses could call for a felony charge punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to 3 ½ years in prison. 

However, the governor has issued hundreds of pardons for people convicted of non-violent marijuana-related crimes and other drug-related offenses during his years in office. 

So how do voters feel about Wisconsin residents spend millions at Illinois cannabis retailers and the law in general? A statewide poll released in August showed that 69% of residents feel cannabis should be legal. The breakdown includes 81% of Democrats, 75% of independents, and 51% of Republicans.