Gov. Tony Evers says his first budget will likely include a “first step” toward legalizing medical marijuana.

The governor addressed board members of the Wisconsin Technology Council Tuesday at the Madison office of Exact Sciences. He was introduced by Exact Sciences CEO Kevin Conroy, who was named to Evers’ transition team in November.

Following an audience question on his views toward marijuana, Evers said he favors legalization, but doesn’t want to rush it.

Evers said his budget will likely start the process of moving toward medical marijuana legalization. Looking further ahead, he said his administration will likely take more steps toward full legalization “or call for a statewide referendum.”

“I personally would sign that bill,” he said. “I just want to make sure we do it correctly.”

During the campaign, Evers expressed support for legalizing medical marijuana and said voters should weigh in through a statewide referendum on full legalization.

The question on marijuana was posed by Alexander Pendleton, a lawyer based in Milwaukee. He says he has no connection to the marijuana industry, but he believes Wisconsin is lagging behind other states on this issue.

Pendleton framed the topic as connecting criminal justice with budgetary concerns, as well as economic development. And Evers acknowledged that “marijuana connects all the dots.”

But Evers pointed to other states as cautionary examples, noting that hundreds of “mom and pop” cannabis stores that were early on the scene in Washington are now all but replaced by bigger companies.

“I think the last thing the people of Wisconsin want as it relates to marijuana is it eventually devolves into Pfizer running things,” he said, emphasizing the importance of small businesses succeeding.

In Colorado’s case, Evers said the industry is bringing in a lot of new revenue, but because of the state’s tax structure, “very few people are actually making money.”

“I want it to be set up in a way that people in the state of Wisconsin feel comfortable that they can make some money by doing this work without having to essentially go broke,” he said.

Evers added it’s more a question of when, rather than if, Wisconsin will legalize marijuana.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said in the past he doesn’t support legalizing medical marijuana, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he’s open to it.

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