Appleton’s Cannabis Legalization Referendum

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Governor Tony Evers (D-Wis.)’s races will not be the only ones on the ballot in Appleton on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2020. In addition to Assemblymember Lee Snodgrass (D-Wis.)’s reelection campaign and the hotly contested race to replace Appleton’s Senator Roger Roth (R-Wis.), Appleton will also have a chance to vote on legalizing cannabis in the state.  

On Jul. 21, 2022, seven members of the Appleton Common Council – Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Israel Del Toro, Denise Fenton, Joss Thyssen, Alex Schultz, Vaya Lauren Jones and Nate Wolff – introduced a resolution that called for a referendum to be placed on the general election ballot to allow Appleton residents to express their opinions on the matter.  

The resolution cites a variety of reasons why cannabis should be legal, including the fact that according to a Gallup survey, criminalization has failed to curb use. It also cites a Marquette University Law School poll in which 61% of Wisconsinites support fully legalized cannabis, the fact that every state surrounding Wisconsin has legal cannabis, the fact that Wisconsin is missing out on cannabis revenue, the fact that cannabis is shown to reduce opioid abuse, the fact that legalization would cut down on the illicit drug trade and the fact that it would free up law enforcement to investigate serious crimes. The referendum would not make cannabis legal in Appleton, because it is still prohibited by state law, but according to Alfheim, it would be able to send a message to the state legislature.  

On Aug. 4, 2022, the Common Council voted to place the referendum on the November ballot. 4 alderpersons voted against the measure, including Alderperson Sheri Hartzheim. According to WTAQ reporter Casey Nelson, Hartzheim doesn’t feel that it’s necessary, and worries that it will confuse voters into believing that it will actually legalize cannabis in Appleton. Hartzheim believes it should be up to the state to decide.  

Alderperson Brad Firkus, from the more progressive side of the council, does not support the referendum. Although he stressed that he does support legalization, he doesn’t think it’s necessary to put this on the ballot because it’s already well known that legalization has broad public support. He added that past advisory referendums, such as the referendum on appointing a nonpartisan redistricting commission to end gerrymandered districts in Wisconsin, had a public awareness aspect to it that this referendum lacks.  

“For what it’s worth I’m not against legalization, but I don’t think the referendum is useful or necessary,” Firkus said.  

Although Governor Evers, as well as 61% of Wisconsinites, support legalizing recreational cannabis, the State Senate and Assembly, both gerrymandered to favor Republicans, will not budge on the issue. If it were truly left up to the state to decide, the voters of Wisconsin would very likely vote to legalize it.