Wisconsin governor introduces medical and recreational cannabis legalization plan

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Wednesday, February 16, the Governor of Wisconsin unveiled his budget plan to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis statewide. The legal framework for cannabis reform was attached to his proposal.

“The Governor believes it is time to join other states, including two of our neighbors, who have legalized recreational [cannabis],” reads an excerpt from an explanatory document issued by his office.

The proposal would allow adults aged 21+ to buy/possess two ounces of cannabis and grow six plants for personal consumption. Out-of-staters would also be able to buy/possess quarter of an ounce.

While vocal opposition has been felt from many leaders in the Republican-steered Senate, Gov. Tony Evers (D) did not hesitate in pushing ahead with his plan to legalize cannabis in Wisconsin. 

His plan also states that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) would be in charge of compiling and managing a registry of the state’s certified medical cannabis patients.

Cannabis in Wisconsin: Restrictions on licensing, anti-discrimination protections and conviction expungement

Although adults age 21 and older could soon be able to purchase cannabis in Wisconsin without any legal repercussions, the new law does not come without its limitations. A number of restrictions have been imposed on licensing. 

For example, individuals who have been committed to rehab facilities for drug dependence problems within the last three years would not be eligible to apply for a business permit. In addition to this, individuals who have been convicted of a violent felony or at least three violent misdemeanors would also be prohibited from applying for licensing.

Another permit requirement stipulates that cannabis businesses with 20 employees or more must prove that they’ve “entered into a labor peace agreement with a labor organization.” Individuals who reside in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs will not be given special treatment. 

Nonetheless, Evers’ budget plan for medical and recreational cannabis provides compliant cannabis consuming workers with anti-discrimination protections. This means that consumers will not lose unemployment benefits for consuming either medical or recreational cannabis outside of working hours, nor will positive THC testing impact their eligibility for an organ transplant.

Moreover, the governor’s budget plan “recommends expanding the conditions under which an individual may have his or her criminal record expunged of a conviction.”

Cannabis wholesale and excise retail taxes stand to benefit Wisconsinites

Should Evers’ cannabis legalization plan be approved, a 15 percent wholesale excise tax would be imposed on cannabis, while a 10 percent retail excise tax would be added to cannabis sales. Such taxes would not be applied to medical cannabis sales.

Analysts predict that the fiscal year stretching from 2022-2023 could harvest tax revenue to the amount of $165.8 million for Wisconsin. This figure would be distributed among the state’s general fund and a “community reinvestment fund.”

Evers suggests using $10 million of the $80 million that is expected to be funneled into community reinvestment specifically for grants “to promote diversity and advance equity and inclusion.”

An additional $35 million would be set aside for school sparsity grants, $10 million for community health worker grants, $10 million for “equity action plan grants” and $5 million for businesses in neglected communities.

Separate license categories included in Wisconsin’s cannabis proposal 

A number of separate license categories will be available to Wisconsinites who wish to participate in the market. Some examples include cannabis production, distribution, testing, processing and retail business licenses. 

Numerous types of criteria would be used to score business license applicants, such as their “ability to articulate a social equity plan related to the operation of a [cannabis] retail establishment.” 

Various other factors that will help to ensure state and local law compliance, as well as “worker and consumer safety,” include a cannabis business license applicant’s ability to promote local job creation opportunities and environmental sustainability.

While Evers’ plan to legalize recreational and medical cannabis in Wisconsin encompasses many things, the GOP-controlled legislature is unlikely to pass it with flying colors.