MADISON, Wis. (420CanNews) — Wisconsin is one of only 12 states yet to enact even a limited medical marijuana program, despite neighboring states with full recreational cannabis programs. All marijuana possession currently remains illegal in Wisconsin, with misdemeanor fines up to $1,000 and 6 months’ jail time, and possible felony charges for repeated offenses. But that could soon change, as Republicans plan to introduce a restrictive medical marijuana bill in January 2024 that could see a vote next year, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Recent Developments Fueling Pressure to Legalize
Wisconsin is facing increasing pressure to reform its strict marijuana laws as bordering states enact more permissive policies. Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota all legalized adult-use marijuana in within the past five years. A state estimate from March 2022 found Wisconsin missing out on $36.1 million in potential tax revenues from border town purchases in Illinois alone.
Citing public support and potential economic benefits, Democratic Governor Tony Evers has called for full statewide marijuana legalization in his last two state budget proposals, including medical marijuana in Wisconsin. Governor Evers points to November 2022 polling data from Marquette University showing that 83% of Wisconsin residents support medical marijuana legalization, while 64% back broader recreational legalization.
The Restrictive GOP Medical Marijuana Proposal
In January 2024, Wisconsin Republicans plan to introduce a long-awaited yet restrictive medical marijuana legalization bill, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The legislation is expected to closely model neighboring Minnesota’s 2014-2022 medical marijuana program before broader legalization was enacted.
Republicans have held closed door talks to shape the proposal since 2021, led by Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk). The goal is to craft a consensus bill that can garner enough Republican votes to pass both chambers and legalize medical cannabis in Wisconsin.
In January 2023, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) suggested that the GOP bill may require medical marijuana in Wisconsin to be prescribed by doctors solely in pill form. This departs from most state programs that prescribe cannabis flower, oil, and edibles. Proponents of a more restrictive program argue that it could ease law enforcement concerns and improve the bill’s chances among conservative lawmakers.
Lawmaker and Stakeholder Reactions Across Political Spectrum
If introduced as described, the restrictive Republican medical marijuana bill seems likely to draw mixed reactions from lawmakers, interest groups, and the public.
On the right, some law enforcement associations and conservative organizations like Smart Approaches to Marijuana have resisted loosening Wisconsin’s laws over concerns about youth access, impaired driving dangers, and potential gateway effects.
On the left, Governor Evers and Democratic lawmakers may push to expand access by increasing the limit of dispensaries and allowing for a wider variety of medical marijuana products. Progressive advocacy groups are also mobilizing public pressure on legislators to support broader reforms.
Remaining Hurdles Before Final Passage
Despite hints that the legislation is nearing completion, the GOP medical marijuana bill still faces some uncertainties on its way to becoming law.
The bill is expected to be introduced in the Assembly in January 2024. However, most Republican legislators have yet to see the actual details of the proposal. Speaker Robin Vos admits that many in his caucus still need to be convinced.
In the Senate, Leader Devin LeMahieu says there is “potentially” enough support to pass the Assembly version, but gaining a broader buy-in among skeptical GOP Senators could prove challenging.
If passed by the legislature, the bill would require a signature from the pro-legalization Governor Evers before taking effect. Whether he might veto a limited bill while continuing to push for fuller reforms remains unclear.
Wisconsin Lags in Shifting Marijuana Policies
As public attitudes and neighboring state laws shift toward cannabis reform, the Wisconsin Republicans’ forthcoming compromise bill continues to face conflicting pressures from opponents and supporters to revise the program scope and accessibility. And while there is strong in-state support for marijuana legalization, this incremental step would still leave Wisconsin lagging behind the national trend.
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— Story Filed By 420CanNews Staff
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