While a national shift on cannabis policy has many longtime lawmakers pulling back their attacks on the nation’s most exciting emerging industry, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Sean Duffy has chosen to attack his Democrat opponents over their stances on progressive marijuana reforms.
During a debate last week ahead of their primary this coming Tuesday, both of Duffy’s potential challengers, Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewert, noted that they support legalizing cannabis in Wisconsin and beyond.
“While there are some negative aspects to this, I believe that we should legalize marijuana both recreationally and medicinally,” Engebretson said.
“We should legalize it because it is a waste of taxpayer dollars to be incarcerating people,” Ewert said. “However, we need to treat this like the other chemicals that we have legal, whether that be nicotine or alcohol. It needs to be used responsibly.”
According to Wisconsin Public Radio, Duffy was asked to speak on their comments during an interview at the Wisconsin Valley Fair in Wausau last Saturday.
He decided to call out both of his opponents and take a hardline stance against cannabis.
“I’m the father of eight kids and as a former prosecutor and now a congressman, I see what’s happening in America with a drug epidemic, from opioids to meth to heroin. I think marijuana is a gateway drug to these other drugs,” Duffy said to the crowd, as he fell back on the long disproven gateway theory.
During a time of economic unrest in his district, Duffy also claimed cannabis users were eliminating themselves from the job market due to workplace drug testing and safety concerns.
“Marijuana shows up in a drug test. If you want to operate heavy equipment or you want to drive a big rig, you’ve got to pass a drug test,” Duffy said. “That’s not public policy that comes from the Congress in D.C. or from Wisconsin. It’s the insurance companies that say we’re not going to insure you if you have employees that are doing these kinds of drugs.”
In fact, the insurance industry has been one of Duffy’s biggest contributors over the last decade. According to OpenSecrets, the insurance industry has given him $865,359 since his political career began in 2009.
Duffy’s local Republican party chair in Wisconsin’s 7th district, Jim Miller, got in on the debate, also bashing Engebretson and Ewert’s legalization plans in a statement.
“Here is yet another example of how Margaret Engebretson and Brian Ewert are out of touch with Wisconsinites,” Miller said. “If they spent less time trying to adopt far-left policies and more time speaking to our brave law enforcement officers or drug rehabilitation counselors, they would know that our communities are fighting hard to stem a drug epidemic that is hurting families and making it harder to hire safe and reliable workers.”
Unfortunately for Duffy and Miller, they’re living in an opposite reality than most of their fellow cheeseheads. A 2016 Marquette survey found that 59 percent of Wisconsin residents believed marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco — meaning it’s nothing like a “far-left” policy.
Across the Nation, Anti-Cannabis Opinions Can Hurt Candidates
In response to Duffy’s comments, national marijuana reform organizations were quick to point out the actual attitudes in his district contradict his stance that cannabis is unpopular in Wisconsin. They also noted that this is a trend that repeats across the nation.
“Unfortunately for Congressman Duffy, more Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization than will likely support him for reelection,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now. “Ending marijuana prohibition is a popular policy across political demographics and if he continues to show his ignorance on the issue, he may realize just how much of a liability being a prohibitionist in 2018 is.”
At the Marijuana Policy Project, spokesman Mason Tvert noted that Duffy received over $50,000 dollars in combined contributions from the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America since the 2012 election cycle.
“Congressman Duffy is not only on the wrong side of history, but also on the wrong side of public opinion in his home state,” Tvert said. “Most Wisconsin voters recognize prohibition has failed and want the federal government to stop waging this wasteful and misguided war on marijuana.”
As for the cash from big booze, Tvert said that Duffy could find a way to balance support for the liquor and the cannabis industries.
“He claims marijuana is just too dangerous to be made legal for adults, yet he has accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from producers and distributors of a far more harmful substance — alcohol,” Tvert said. “The congressman seems to appreciate the legal status of alcohol and the support of the regulated alcohol industry, so why does he think it is such a wild idea to make marijuana legal for adults and replace illegal dealers with a regulated marijuana industry?”
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