Sheriff’s office, local police oppose St. Croix County cannabis referendum
The St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, along with leadership from 12 county police departments, came out against putting a non-binding cannabis referendum on this fall’s general election ballot.
“The St. Croix County Law Enforcement Executive Committee believes that this process should be first handled at the Federal level, then, if marijuana use becomes federally lawful, with the State of Wisconsin. ... We, as a group, feel strongly that legalized marijuana use will negatively impact all facets of our community,” the group said in a document presented to the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee at its Friday, Aug. 3 meeting.
Representing the group, St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson said the proposed referendum language was one-sided, focusing on what money could be brought in through the sale of legal marijuana rather than the safety of county residents. He also said legalization of marijuana could put more burden on law enforcement.
Several county supervisors expressed concern that the potential referendum was racing toward a decision too quickly for committees to properly weigh its value.
District 6 Supervisor Bob Long, a member of the Health and Human Services Board, said there was “a lot of discomfort” among the committee’s members, who felt they didn’t have enough information to make a decision about whether or not to support the referendum.
“I love public opinion, but I think we’re obligated to our citizens to make sure that we’re making educated decisions in putting this forward on the ballot,” Long said. He then encouraged the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee to also support a delay of the referendum.
District 2 Supervisor Scott Nordstrand said introducing a referendum of this kind would be the responsibility of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee or the Health and Human Services Board, and that the Administration Committee, which originally introduced the possibility of a non-binding cannabis referendum to gauge public opinion, had overstepped their boundaries in doing so.
District 7 Supervisor Tammy Moothedan, who initially introduced the referendum to the Administration Committee in June, is also a member of the Health and Human Services Board.
District 9 Supervisor Bob Feidler agreed with Nordstrand, saying he was troubled by the process and also thinks the potential referendum language is biased in favor of marijuana legalization.
Moothedan defended her support for the non-binding referendum as a gauge of public opinion.
“Truly, as a County Board supervisor, who I serve is the public,” she said. “So while I respect the opinion of the sheriff, of the district attorney, of our law enforcement officers, frankly, they have a platform to state their opinion on legalization … The public doesn’t have that option. This referendum gives the public the option to state their opinion.”
In a particularly impassioned speech, District Attorney Michael Nieskes directly addressed Moothedan, accusing her of not actually being in touch with the residents she represents.
“Tammy, I’m one of the residents of your district. … You certainly didn’t go around to any of the people in the community, and I live about two blocks from you,” he said.
Nieskes said he was “disappointed” at how quickly the referendum made it onto meeting agendas for discussion and called the potential language of the referendum “lopsided.”
Nieskes also directly addressed a member of the public who spoke in favor of the referendum, saying the man had “swapped one addiction for another” by using cannabis to treat his alcohol and nicotine addictions. Nieskes added that he did not believe the man was better off using cannabis.
The Public Protection and Judiciary Committee ultimately voted 5-0 to recommend that the County Board delay the referendum. With this vote, the committee joined the Health and Human Services Board, the Community Justice Collaborating Council and local law enforcement in a push to keep the referendum off the fall ballot.