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Top GOP Wisconsin Lawmaker Says Limited Medical Marijuana Bill Dead For The Year, As Democrats Plan To Force Vote On Competing Proposal



A Wisconsin GOP-led medical marijuana legalization bill is effectively dead for the session, according to the top Republican lawmaker in the Assembly who unveiled the proposal for the first time just last month.

At the same time, Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers are seeking to attach a separate, broader medical cannabis legalization amendment to a kratom regulations bill that’s set to be taken up on the Assembly floor.

When it comes to the more limited Republican marijuana bill, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said that the GOP-controlled Senate “wants to have a more liberal version than the one that we’re willing to pass,” and so that “probably doesn’t leave us enough time with the waning days of the session” to advance the bill he touted for months in his chamber.

Vos said there will still be public hearings on the legislation—which proposes a strictly limited program permitting select patients to access non-smokable cannabis products at state-run dispensaries—but that won’t happen until after the Assembly adjourns for the year next week.

“Unfortunately, people from the very beginning have said that they have concerns that this will lead to widespread recreational marijuana,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “And many of my colleagues on the other side continue to say that that is their goal, which, of course, that’s their right.”

While the speaker has insisted that the bill has enough GOP votes in his chamber to pass, even if all Democratic members opposed it, the measure has proved contentious on both sides of the aisle, as well as among advocacy groups who’ve voiced concerns about issues such as patient access and affordability.

Senate Republican leaders also called the idea of having the dispensaries operated by the state as a “non-starter,” and Vos affirmed that he was unwilling to amend it to address their concerns.

Democrats, meanwhile, have continued to press for full adult-use legalization. Some, including Gov. Tony Evers (D), indicated that they may be willing to advance medical cannabis legislation in the interim, but the Assembly bill’s severe restrictions thew that tentative support into question.

Meanwhile, Reps. Darrin Madison (D) and Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D) filed a different medical cannabis legalization amendment to an unrelated kratom bill on Thursday that’s expected to be taken up on the floor in short order.

Madison is also the Assembly sponsor of an adult-use legalization bill that he introduced, alongside Sen. Melissa Agard (D), last September.

His medical marijuana amendment would create a significantly more comprehensive and conventional program compared to the GOP Assembly legislation. And while it seems unlikely that the tactic of proposing it as part of the kratom bill in the Republican-controlled body will be successful—it could put members on the record and force a discussion of an issue that rarely occurs in the conservative legislature.

Agard took a similar approach last year, introducing two amendments to a broader Senate budget bill that would have legalized marijuana and, thereby, forcing a roll call where all Republican members opposed it.

In an op-ed for Marijuana Moment on Thursday, Agard responded to the Assembly speaker’s comments about not bringing his medical cannabis bill to the floor this session. She said the legislation “was always smoke and mirrors,” and it “would not accomplish what a majority of Wisconsinites are asking of state legislators: full legalization of cannabis for adult responsible usage.”

“Republicans are continuing their track record of ignoring the will of the people who want to see cannabis legalized. Speaker Vos’ comments today show that he and his fellow legislative Republicans are unserious about addressing this issue,” the senator wrote. “How many sessions do we need to witness the same hoax from Republicans indicating their interest in medical marijuana only to pull the rug out from those who desperately want this policy to be signed into law?”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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The governor, meanwhile, also recently said that the GOP legislature’s inaction over recent years has meant Wisconsin “is losing out to our neighboring states” that have enacted the reform.

“It’s high time we legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Wisconsin much like we do with alcohol,” said Evers, who granted another round of pardons, including dozens issued for people with prior marijuana convictions, in November.

The state Department of Revenue released a fiscal estimate of the economic impact of Agard’s legalization bill last November, projecting that the reform would generate nearly $170 million annually in tax revenue.

Also, a legislative analysis requested by the minority leader estimated that Wisconsin residents spent more than $121 million on cannabis in Illinois alone in 2022, contributing $36 million in tax revenue to the neighboring state.

Despite all that, the conservative legislature has long resisted even incremental reform—stripping marijuana proposals from the governor’s budget requests, for example.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers formally introduced a measure to decriminalize marijuana possession in December. Sponsors hoped the limited, noncommercial reform will win enough support to clear the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and become law in parallel with the separate medical cannabis bill.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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