An explainer on Wisconsin's marijuana referenda in November


The 2020 election cycle is getting off to a fast start in Wisconsin. The state's voters will see some significant changes this year. Two referenda addressing marijuana policy will be on ballots across the state in November, and they have a good chance of passing. But even if they do pass, they might not change any laws anyway. So what's all this mean? Let us explain:

There's now a majority of people who think marijuana should be legal in Wisconsin.

You might be surprised to learn that most Wisconsin residents now support marijuana legalization. According to a recent Marquette University Law School poll, 53 percent of voters favor making it legal for adults to possess small amounts of cannabis in their homes and public places. In comparison, only 44 percent oppose the measure.

And if you're wondering whether there is any momentum among legislative leaders toward legalizing marijuana use in Wisconsin, there is! Last year, both houses passed bills legalizing medical cannabis, but Governor Scott Walker vetoed them. However, this time, more Republicans have voiced support for marijuana legalization — including state Rep Steve Nass (R), who has said he believes it's "time for Wisconsin to join other states in ending the prohibition on recreational use."

Those people are more likely to vote.

Now, here's the thing: voters who support legalization are more likely to vote than those that oppose it. Marijuana use is a predictor of whether or not you're going to vote at all. And so, when we look at this data, we see that more people who support marijuana legalization will vote for the election than those who don't think it should be legal.

Now that doesn't mean that one side automatically wins, but what it does mean is that if you want your voice heard on this issue in November 2020, then you need to make sure that you get out and vote—and, if possible, share some information about why voting matters with others as well!

And there's precedent for referenda passing the legislature.

  • In 2017, Wisconsin passed legislation that legalized medical marijuana after a referendum.
  • The governor's veto of a medical marijuana bill in 2013 prompted the referendum.
  • The referendum passed with a large majority.

The expected popularity of these referenda may urge politicians to act.

The referenda are non-binding, which means they won't change the law. But it will be an indication of public opinion on the issue. The expected popularity of these referenda may urge politicians to act.

Political action committees and advocacy groups supporting legalization have been pushing for ballot questions in several states this fall, including California and Michigan, and Wisconsin, where voters will see a marijuana question on their ballots in November.


The people of Wisconsin are ready to end prohibition, and they will make their voices heard at the ballot box in November. It's time for politicians to start listening.