Adult-use cannabis legalization bill introduced in Wisconsin Legislature

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A bill to legalize recreational cannabis has been put forward in the Wisconsin Legislature.

Reports state that the measure seeks to tax cannabis at rates similar to those imposed on alcohol. 

In addition to this, Wisconsin’s adult-use cannabis bill would permit consumers to cultivate the plant at home.

The measure was introduced by State Sen. Melissa Agard. A Madison Democrat, Agard envisions the legal market generating an extra $165 million on an annual basis for the state. 

It is time for Wisconsin to do what we need to do to realize that prohibition has failed our state and it is past time to get this done for our community,” Agard told reporters.

Since Republicans steer both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature, it’s unlikely that the bill will be approved with flying colors.

On the other hand, Agard’s ally, Democratic Governor Tony Evers, has demonstrated his openness to recreational cannabis legalization. Back in February, he proposed a first draft of adult-use legislation as part of his state budget.

Wisconsin’s adult-use cannabis bill has been introduced five times over the last eight years

Almost 60 percent of Wisconsinites support the prospect of a legal adult-use cannabis market transpiring. However, despite state Sen. Melissa Agard’s persistence, many signs suggest that Wisconsin will continue to be an “island of prohibition” enclosed by states where cannabis consumption is legal.

The battle for cannabis reform has been ongoing. Over the last eight years, recreational cannabis legalization has been proposed to Wisconsin lawmakers five times.

Agard, whose effort is strengthened by Reps. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, and Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, put forth legislation to legalize recreational cannabis on Tuesday, August 10. 

The bill was introduced in the parking lot of a Sunnyside dispensary in South Beloit, Illinois, which is located just 1,000 feet from the state line.

“Legalizing and taxing cannabis in Wisconsin just like we already do with alcohol ensures a controlled, safe market for our communities,” said Agard, whose proposal would legalize recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and above.

Based on the proposed law to legalize recreational cannabis in Wisconsin, patients could possess a maximum of two ounces of cannabis and six plants for personal use. Consumers who visit from another state could also possess up to a quarter of an ounce.

Current laws surrounding cannabis in Wisconsin

Cannabis in Wisconsin is illegal for recreational purposes. Based on the 1939 legislation “161.275 Possession and use of marijuana; penalty,” anyone caught “growing, cultivating, mixing, compounding, having control of, preparing, possessing, using, prescribing, selling, administering or dispensing marijuana or hemp” would face no less than one year and no more than two years in a state prison.

As per the most up-to-date law, first-time offenders caught in possession of any amount will be punished by a maximum of six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Second-time offenders must pay a $10,000 fine and potentially spend 3.5 years behind bars. 

Conversely, medical cannabis consumption in Wisconsin is only legal in the form of CBD oil that contains minute quantities of the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). 

During the 1940s, Wisconsin was the leading hemp producer in the nation and before federal prohibition kicked in, the state harbored the nation’s last hemp-producing company (Rens Hemp Company). 

Following the enactment of a 2017 law, hemp cultivation was reauthorized in the state.