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New Research Challenges Arguments Made Both For And Against Medical Marijuana

David McNew
Getty Images
A budtender handles marijuana at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center, a not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensary in operation since 2006, on Sept. 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, Cali.

There have been lots of arguments made both for and against medical marijuana. But there are flaws in claims made on both sides. That's what researchers at the Wisconsin Policy Forum found with their latest report.

Mark Sommerhauser, communications director/policy researcher at Wisconsin Policy Forum, says that their conclusions are based on a comparative analysis of 33 states and Washington, D.C., all of which have some medical marijuana law.  

"What are some trends that stand out? What are some points that we can make that are relevant to the debate that's unfolding here in Wisconsin?" says Sommerhauser.

After collecting data from multiple entities, it was clear that one argument made by many proponents of medical marijuana was not supported by evidence. The argument: medical marijuana could be a game changer in terms of revenue for the state. That is simply not the case, says Data and Research Analyst Ari Brown.

"Most states that we could find information on, their revenue wasn't more than about $10 million a year," Brown says.

READ: Is Wisconsin Missing Out On The Money By Not Legalizing Marijuana?

Brown says that when you analyze the numbers it makes a lot of sense.

"Medical marijuana is not meant to be for everyone to access in the state. Every state except one writes in the conditions that they're gonna allow people that have those conditions to go to a dispensary and purchase medical marijuana," Brown explains.

The limited access restricts the amount of sales and sales taxes. So, it's not going to be something year over year that's going to be a consistent and large revenue stream for states.

Conversely, the argument that if Wisconsin were to legalize medical marijuana it would be on the fast track to legalizing recreation marijuana. This claim was made prominent by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald when he said in a statement, "Everyone knows that medical marijuana leads to legalized marijuana."

Brown says that claim is only partially true.

"We found that almost all of the states that do have recreational marijuana passed their medical marijuana law through a ballot initiative. And currently, Illinois is the only state that passed their medical marijuana law through their Legislature and then went on to get recreational marijuana," Brown says.

It is not possible in Wisconsin currently for the people to vote on this as a popular ballot initiative. Therefore, the only way moving forward on medical marijuana is if somebody introduces it in the Legislature as a bill and it passes both the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly. Then it must be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Angelina Mosher Salazar joined WUWM in 2018 as the Eric Von Broadcast Fellow. She was then a reporter with the station until 2021.