Two medical cannabis proposals undergo consideration in Wisconsin

Wisconsin may be famous for its beer, dairy and lumber, but if one of two recently-introduced legislative proposals are successfully adopted as official law, the state could soon be adding cannabis to the list of things it produces.

Currently, Wisconsin – home to 5.9 million people – has two legislative proposals to legalize medical cannabis. What’s most interesting about this is that each proposal comes from a different political party.

One of the bills, which was introduced by Republicans, would establish a Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission under the state’s Department of Revenue. It was presented to lawmakers in February by Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, and Rep. Patrick Snyder, R-Schofield. 

According to the bill’s language, primary care providers who meet the eligibility criteria would be able to recommend cannabis-based medicines to their patients in the form of oils, tinctures, pills, topicals and liquids.

A separate bill that was proposed by Democrats and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services aims to form a medical cannabis registry with doctoral consent for individuals who endure debilitating conditions, such as AIDS and cancer.

Governor hopes to steer sensible policy for cannabis in Wisconsin 

In 2018, when he released his first advised budget as Governor of Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers (D) gave some serious thought to cannabis. In fact, he vowed to eliminate all cannabis possession-related penalties, provide expungement and integrate an extensive medical cannabis program for state residents to enroll in.

Sadly, to the dismay of Evers’ and his cannabis-lobbying supporters, the medical cannabis provisions were eliminated from the suggested budget by the Joint Finance Committee. Republicans went as far as to vote against the compassionate program and have it scrapped outright.

Then, just last year, Gov. Evers proceeded to include medical cannabis and reform legalization in his budget plan once more. Unfortunately, after Senator Melissa Agard (D) and a handful of her colleagues proposed SB 545 to legalize cannabis for recreational and medical purposes, the caucus failed to show enough support.

It appears that the assembly GOP caucus is not on the same wavelength as voters. After all, over half of the state’s population saw cannabis-focused bills on their ballots in 2018. What’s more, all of the measures gained enough votes to pass.

Facts about cannabis in Wisconsin

Cannabis in Wisconsin is still illegal for recreational purposes. Anyone caught in possession of the plant, regardless of the amount, faces a $1000 penalty for a first offense and a maximum six-month stint in prison. Second-time offenders risk 3.5 years behind bars, a maximum $10,000 fine and a “felony” etched into their criminal record.

In comparison with nearby states like Michigan and Illinois, both of which have thriving recreational cannabis markets, Wisconsin has some catching up to do. Plus, Wisconsin’s neighbor Minnesota already has a successful medical cannabis program in place.

Wisconsin remains one of just 19 U.S. states that incarcerate people for simple possession of cannabis. Moreover, it is one of just 13 that has not yet introduced a compassionate medical cannabis law.

Despite a lack of support for legal cannabis in Wisconsin from the caucus, state residents are growing increasingly fond of the green plant. A 2019 poll conducted by New Marquette Law School discovered that 83 percent of voters back medical cannabis legalization, with an additional 59 percent supporting adult-use cannabis legalization.

Last year, three bills — SB 790, SB 164 and AB 130 — were proposed to lawmakers. Each of these bills, if approved, would reduce the punishment of small cannabis penalties ranging from 10-15 grams to a fine.