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St. Croix County Board postpones cannabis referendum vote indefinitely

Darla Meyer, of Hudson, speaks out against the proposed cannabis referendum during the public comment period on Aug. 7, 2018, at the St. Croix County Board meeting. Rebecca Mariscal / RiverTown Multimedia

In a 9-8 vote, the St. Croix County Board on Tuesday indefinitely postponed a decision on whether to place a non-binding cannabis referendum on the fall ballot.

The meeting began with 16 members of the public weighing in on the referendum, with 11 supporting cannabis legalization at least for medicinal use, or encouraging the board to put the referendum on the ballot.

One county resident in support was Joy Rosenberg, of New Richmond, who has multiple sclerosis. She described watching her father, a disabled veteran, spiral into opiate addiction while attempting to legally manage his pain.

"So when my neurologist tells me that the only thing left for me, because I live in a non-medical marijuana state, to control the most painful symptoms of my MS is opiates, I'm filled with despair, disappointment, frustration and fear," Rosenberg said.

Phil Kotoski, of Hudson, was one of about five residents who said the board should put off the vote until they had more information.

"Wait 'til the other test tubes in the country get their data and then go from there," Kotoski said.

Both the main meeting room and an overflow room were filled to capacity.

Later in the meeting, Supervisor Dan Fosterling introduced the motion to postpone the vote indefinitely, with Supervisor Scott Nordstrand seconding the motion.

Of the supervisors, Ed Schachtner, Scott Nordstrand, Lynda Miller, Tom Coulter, Bob Long, Dan Fosterling, Dave Ostness, Roger Larson and Andy Brinkman voted to postpone the vote. Tammy Moothedan, Bob Fiedler, Daniel Hansen, David Peterson, Paulette Anderson, Judy Achterhof, Shaela Leibfried and William Peavey voted against the postponement. Supervisor Roy Sjoberg was absent.

Supervisor Long said he felt it was important to respect the views of the Health and Human Services Board, Public Protection and Judiciary Committee, the Sheriff's Office and District Attorney Michael Nieskes, who all came out against adding the referendum to the fall ballot."I'm totally in favor of medical marijuana — I've seen it work wonders in a lot of my relatives. And I think the whole recreational thing, it's gonna come to Wisconsin eventually anyhow. It's pretty inevitable," Long said before the postponement vote. "But what really concerns me is we're really rushing this thing along before we've really fully vetted this issue."

Supervisor Moothedan, who originally introduced the referendum to the board's Administration Committee in June, expressed her frustration with postponing the vote based on the views of county leadership.

"If we are going to vote no on this referendum or kill this referendum, we better have a very good reason, and I do not see a good reason," Moothedan said. "We are not legalizing cannabis with this referendum, we are simply finding out what the St. Croix County residents want, what is their preference. This isn't about our personal opinion. ... If the people are asking us to do this and you're voting no, who are you representing?"

Also before the vote, Supervisor Hansen said he believed postponing the vote on the referendum was "a disingenuous avoidance of making a decision" and would be "unconscionable."

"We need to have the courage to go ahead and give our opinion," Hansen said.

But the vote on the referendum did not happen.

County Administrator Pat Thompson said Wednesday that he wasn't aware of any action by the board to schedule a special meeting to vote on the referendum before Aug. 29, the date by which the county clerk's office would need to receive it for the fall ballot. Thompson said board members have the right to petition but he wasn't aware of any member's intention to do so.

At the end of the meeting, Moothedan requested that consideration of a cannabis referendum for the April 2020 county election be placed on a future board agenda.

Brown, Dane, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Rock and Sauk counties have voted to add similar referendums to their fall ballots, some without the question of whether to legalize recreational use.

Throughout the country, 30 states have legalized medicinal use of cannabis, including Minnesota, and nine states have legalized it recreationally.

Hannah Black

Hannah Black is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism interested in the intersection of politics and the everyday lives of citizens. Outside of reporting, she enjoys running, going to museums and concerts, and trying new coffee shops and breweries. Her favorite thing to do is spend time with her dog, Wendell.

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