Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill Monday to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin after previously rejecting numerous calls from Gov. Tony Evers and other Democrats to legalize all uses of marijuana.
Medical marijuana will only be available to people with specific conditions, Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, told reporters Monday. Additionally, patients will have to apply for a permit to use the drug. Doctors will not prescribe it and can only confirm the patient’s condition.
The 150-page bill says the program will be state-run, with five dispensaries where medical marijuana can be obtained by eligible patients.
Patients and up to three caregivers would be able to pick up the medical marijuana from state dispensaries. Pharmacists who dispense the product will be state employees, Plumer said.
“For particularly veterans and those that suffer PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, so many other horrible effects from wartime, medical cannabis is something that can help not only tens of thousands of veterans and cancer patients,” Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, said Monday.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a Sunday interview with UpFront the proposal will “probably be the most restrictive version in the entire country” and would follow Minnesota’s medical marijuana law that was in place until the state passed full legalization in August 2023.
Evers said Friday he is open to backing the restricted medical marijuana bill but hopes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana down the line.
“Getting it all done in one fell swoop would be more thoughtful as far as meeting the needs of Wisconsinites that have asked for it,” Evers told The Associated Press on Friday. “But if that’s what we can accomplish right now, I’ll be supportive of that.”
Vos told UpFront he is glad the governor is open to supporting the proposal but warned Evers could “kill the bill” if he remains settled in his talk to legalize the drug.
It is unclear if the proposal will make it through both the Assembly and Senate as Republican senators have been less open to cannabis legalization than their Assembly counterparts.
Sen. Melissa Agard, D-Madison, said it is “disappointing to see that yet again, Wisconsin’s Republican Legislators acting as health professionals when they are not.” She said doctors, patients and caretakers should “make these personal medical decisions” in a press release on Monday.
“As Wisconsin is increasingly an island of prohibition, putting forward an overly restrictive medical cannabis bill does not move our state in the right direction,” Agard said. “I will continue to tirelessly advocate for full legalization that will provide the public safety, freedom, opportunity and economic benefit that Wisconsinites deserve.”
Agard and Rep. Darrin Madison, D-Milwaukee, previously introduced legislation in September to legalize marijuana use for individuals 21 years or older.
Wisconsin Democrats argue legal recreational cannabis would decrease nonviolent possession charges for Black Wisconsinites and provide the state with needed tax revenue.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found Black people in Wisconsin are more than four times as likely to be charged with a marijuana-related offense than their white counterparts.
A Marquette University Law School poll from 2022 found 64% of Wisconsin respondents supported decriminalizing marijuana. The push for legalization has only grown in recent years as Wisconsin’s neighbors have loosened their marijuana laws.
Still, Wisconsin remains one of 12 states where the drug is illegal.
Vos first announced Republicans were working towards a plan to legalize medical cannabis in April. But earlier in the year, Republicans in the Legislature rejected Evers’ proposed budget which included a plan to legalize marijuana in the state.
“We're trying to keep a well-run program,” Plumer said. “One thing we heard from other states when we did ask them about their programs was it can become like the wild wild west and we didn't want that to happen here. We want to make this available to people, but we want to have tight controls on it as well.”
Other Republican state lawmakers held press conferences Monday in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Eau Claire and Superior in addition to the one at the Capitol.
Editor’s note: this article was updated at 11:55 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024
Anna Kleiber is an arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. She also reports on state politics and campus news. Follow her on Twitter at @annakleiber03.