For more than a decade, the Wisconsin Legislature has been where marijuana reform bills go to die. But a new bill to legalize some forms of medical marijuana, introduced by a pair of Republican lawmakers instead of the usual cohort of Democrats, may fare differently. At the very least, the new medical marijuana proposal may mean that the Wisconsin GOP’s brick-wall opposition to marijuana legalization is beginning to crack.
GOP Lawmakers Hope to Begin Hearings on Medical Cannabis Bill Next Month
In Wisconsin, public support for medical marijuana legalization is significant. At 83 percent, according to an April poll conducted by Marquette University Law School, more people back medical cannabis than ever before. Support for full legalization has even tipped the scales into the majority, at 59 percent according to the same poll.
But neither strong public support nor Democrats’ persistent efforts have been able to budge Republican lawmakers on the issue of marijuana reform. The GOP in Wisconsin won’t even get behind decriminalization efforts.
But in a region that has moved decisively into the legal cannabis industry, with neighboring states Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois having legalized medical cannabis and Michigan and Illinois recent legalization recreational cannabis, attitudes may be shifting among some GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin.
But certainly not all GOP lawmakers. As recently as September this year, Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald dismissed the idea that a legalization bill would pass the GOP-controlled Senate. “Everyone knows that medical marijuana leads to legalized marijuana,” Fitzgerald said.
Indeed, the Senate GOP have prevented progress on both Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ medical cannabis proposal from earlier this year and a bill introduced in October by 36 Democrats (and one Republican). “It’s time for Wisconsin to do the right thing and allow doctors to prescribe medication that’s best (for) their patient and their families,” Gov. Evers wrote in a tweet supporting the bill.
New Medical Cannabis Bill Is First-Ever Introduced by Wisconsin Republicans
Rep. Mary Felzkowski and Sen. Kathy Bernier are the two GOP lawmakers sponsoring a new bill to legalize medical cannabis. In fact, their proposal marks the first time Wisconsin Republicans have introduced legislation to legalize cannabis.
Rep. Felzkowski and Sen. Bernier know they have public support for their proposal. In addition to polls, the GOP lawmakers point to non-binding support votes held in communities across Wisconsin. The people want to have the conversation, and Felzkowski and Bernier hope to get it started. “We can and must find a way to make this work in Wisconsin,” Bernier said.
Still, the pair aren’t counting on party affiliation to overcome opposition from their GOP colleagues. But their bill does signal that a fissure may be opening within the state’s Republican party on the issue of marijuana.
The 45-page text of the bill lays out a plan to establish a Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission to oversee licensing and registering patients and caregivers. It also sets a tax rate of 10 percent on wholesale medical cannabis, revises criminal provisions for medical marijuana production, sale, use and possession.
But the bill also bears the marks of GOP-friendly restrictions that have failed in other states. For example, Felzkowski and Bernier’s bill would prohibit smokable forms of medical cannabis and prevent anyone with a prior marijuana-related conviction from being able to register as a caregiver. Furthermore, the bill fails to specify protections for employees who register as medical cannabis patients or seek worker’s compensation or unemployment insurance.