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Wisconsin becoming 'surrounded by smoke'

Posted: 10:33 PM, Aug 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-08 23:54:04-04
Wisconsin 'Surrounded By Smoke'

MARINETTE, Wis. — On the Wisconsin side of the Interstate Bridge marijuana remains strictly illegal, but when a driver crosses over to Michigan the laws become a little more hazy.

At the Hush Lounge in Menominee people can gather at a ‘social club’ and legally smoke pot. However, under current laws, people still can’t legally buy it.

At Cloverland in Daggett, employees said they used to sell medical marijuana and have now applied for a license to sell recreational. If they get approved - they expect to see a lot of Wisconsinites come through their doors.

Both businesses are within 45 minutes of the Wisconsin border and the city of Marinette, where the concern from police is that some people may not be coming back empty handed.

“It wouldn’t be surprising,” Marinette Police Lt. Scott Ries said.

The Marinette Police Department is the first law enforcement agency people will pass.

"Obviously there's a lot easier access to marijuana with it being that close to us," Ries said.

Regardless of where it’s bought, it is still illegal to come into Wisconsin with marijuana. It’s also against the law to drive under the influence.

"That's a serious concern because everybody is on the highways," Ries said. "Whether it's in Wisconsin or Michigan, they're all at risk including the person that is high. Safety is always the priority for law enforcement."

It’s something state law enforcement is preparing for as Wisconsin becomes increasingly surrounded by marijuana. To the South, the Governor of Illinois has signed a law legalizing recreational marijuana. West of Wisconsin, Minnesota has had a medical marijuana program for years. The Governor now supports full legalization.

"The state patrol and local law enforcement will take enforcement actions if we come into contact with any illegal substances," State Patrol Sgt. Andrew Jacobs said.

Jacobs acknowledges that the issue is a challenge. As the prevalence and acceptance of marijuana continues to grow, so does the concern.

"It's been a growing trend in our state and other states," he said.

Acceptance is building here in Wisconsin. Governor Tony Evers’ budget offered a path to medical marijuana. Evers’ office wrote to us, “There is just no good reason for Republican leadership to stand in the way of helping people who are suffering from PTSD, epilepsy, and chronic pain to access medicine that can provide some relief.”

"I think it's reasonable for states to take a measured approach, but when voters say this is something we want to do I think it's time for elected officials to respond," Marijuana Policy Project Director of Government Affairs Chris Lindsey said.

An April Marquette Law School Poll surveyed Wisconsin voters on the issue and found 83 percent support medical marijuana versus 12percent opposed. Also, 59 percent of voters say recreational marijuana use should be legal, while 36 percent say it should not be.

"I think there's a process there where it's talking with the folks that really need to be at the table and part of that discussion," Lindsey said. "That really needs to start very soon in Wisconsin."

Not everyone is not convinced. Republican leadership rejected Evers’ proposal and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did not return our request for comment.

The city of Marinette has already banned marijuana sales and use, regardless of what the state decides. Police said marijuana perceptions are troubling.

"I don't think there's near the education from the community members that we talk with," Ries said.

While a Wisconsin resident can simply cross bridge to purchase and use marijuana, law enforcement back in the Badger State is reminding people that pot possession here is against the law. It's a law that will be enforced.

This story will run Thursday night on NBC26 at 10:00.