Will Wisconsin be the Next State to Legalize Cannabis?

Potential Cannabis legalization in Wisconsin

Wisconsin was leading the way in cannabis legalization a decade ago when the Democrat-dominated Legislature introduced a bill regarding the medical use of marijuana. However, the bill did not go past the committee stage after the Republicans came out with guns blazing to oppose the bill. A decade later, the state once seen as a leader in cannabis legalization is left like an island as other states pass pro-cannabis legislation. 

Today, the debate is uniting the Democrats and Republicans. On Friday, September 20th, Democrats Jon Erpenbach, Chris Taylor, and Republican Patrick Testin gave a joint statement regarding marijuana legalization in Wisconsin. They stated that it was time the state joined other regions in advocacy for medical use of cannabis. “Doctors and patients, not the government, should decide if cannabis is the right treatment,” Said Testin.

The Genesis of Cannabis Legalization in Wisconsin

In 2013 and 2015, Melissa Sargent proposed a bill to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, but it was unsuccessful. In 2018, most counties indicated their support for a non-binding referendum for cannabis legalization. 

Marquette University Law School conducted a poll which indicated that 59% of the population in Wisconsin supported marijuana legalization. On the other hand, 36% were against cannabis legalization in Wisconsin. A whopping 83% indicated they were in support of medical legalization of the plant. 

Cannabis legalization is one of the top policy issues shaping the 2020 presidential election. State leaders cannot turn a blind eye to the massive support Wisconsin residents gave potential legalization if the Marquette poll is any indication. Though the poll shows most people support the medical use of cannabis, some still shrug off the idea of recreational marijuana legalization in Wisconsin

The Likelihood of a Heated Legalization Debate

The assembly speaker, Robin Vos, is open to the debate on cannabis legalization, but a faction of Republicans led by Majority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald, are against the debate. The senator, who has indicated interest in replacing the retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, noted that legalization of cannabis has adverse effects. “Everyone knows that medical marijuana leads to legalized marijuana”, he stated. The senator also argues that there has been an increase in instances of drug-impaired driving in states where cannabis is legal.

Tony Evers, a Democratic governor had allocated a budget to help in legalization of medical marijuana. However, the Republicans shot down the bill. Vos indicated that the bill faced rejection because it advocated for recreational use of cannabis.

Wisconsin is Republican-controlled and, as witnessed in other regions, politics play an essential role in this debate. President Trump left the cannabis legalization debate in the hands of state governments. So far, we have seen pot legalization in Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Massachusetts, Washington DC, and Florida, among others. 

Neighboring states,  Michigan and Illinois have also legalized recreational use of marijuana. On the other hand, Minnesota has made progress in legalization of cannabis for medical purposes.

There are 3 groups present in the cannabis legalization debate. One group supports both recreational and medical use of the plant in Wisconsin. The group is primarily composed of Democrats but does not receive much attention as supporters of Medical legalization of cannabis in Wisconsin, who have seen support from both Republicans and Democrats. To some degree, the bill seems almost certain tops. Considering the widespread support from the locals, the representatives are pinned to the wall to vote in favour. 

But what are the components of the proposed legislation?

Proposed Legislation to Legalize Cannabis in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Uniform Controlled Substance Act classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance. However, the medical use of marijuana is permitted under limited circumstances. The state unanimously legalized cannabidiol oil in 2014, but still has considerable restrictions. Cultivation of the plant was also legalized in 2017, but there are some very restrictive regulations in place to govern cultivation, processing, and consumption of cannabis.

The proposed legislation suggests:

  • Formation of the Department of Health Services that will have a registry of medical cannabis users
  • Cannabis users should have a condition that necessitates the use of cannabis (ie. AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe pain)
  • A prescription from a physician to join the registry.
  • Registration and annual renewal fees of $250 each.

Apart from medical use, the bill also touches on marijuana cultivation. The bill proposes a registration and annual fees of $250 and $5,000 respectively. It also restricts the cultivation of cannabis for personal or family use. However, the bill proposes the lifting of restrictions regarding the number of plants that one can grow.

What’s Next for Cannabis Legalization in Wisconsin?

Should the proponents of medical legalization of marijuana rejoice yet? The bill certainly faces an uphill battle when the Majority Leader in the assembly is against it. The senate also brought down the proposal of pot legalization recently. Therefore, though the debate has gained traction and seems almost unavoidable, we have seen the bill take a different course in previous attempts. 

The Democrats indicated that this was a libertarian issue and that they are trying to woo more Republicans to join Testin in support of the proposal. Testin, who was at the forefront in 2017 supporting legalization of cannabis cultivation in Wisconsin, is a strong proponent. He attributes his view to his grandpa who had to seek cannabis medication in other states for his ailment.

As Wisconsin joins other states in pushing for the legalization of cannabis, the bill does appear closer to adoption than ever before – especially with Republicans showing signs of support. Will Wisconsin be the next legal state? Only time will tell.

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