A top Wisconsin lawmaker says that Republicans plan to introduce a medical marijuana bill as early as this summer. But he emphasized that it will be unlike any existing medical cannabis law in the country, strongly signaling that it will be significantly restrictive.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said on Tuesday that a group of nine GOP members “have been regularly meeting to come up with ideas,” focusing on drafting legislation that avoids setting the state up to more broadly legalize cannabis.
“I can’t see any scenario where I would support legalizing recreational marijuana. I just don’t see it. I see no benefit,” he said. “But I will say that, traditionally, I think Republicans had been more opposed to all marijuana in general. There are still plenty—but more people are at least open-minded to say, ‘if we’re going to deal with the opioid crisis and you can have medicinal marijuana in a way that does not lead to recreational, why would we not try it?'”
Democratic lawmakers have been skeptical about the reported efforts by GOP colleagues to advance medical cannabis reform in the state. Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D) have been among those who’ve been pushing for comprehensive legalization, but so far cannabis issues have failed to advance in the conservative legislature.
“We’ve kind of chosen from a menu to say what would it look like for a Wisconsin version,” Vos said at the Tuesday event hosted by Wisconsin Health News. “We are hoping to be able to bring something forward later in the summer, which would not be as much as some people want, but a way that would be unique to Wisconsin. It would not be something that’s been done across the country, but unique to Wisconsin, which would hopefully give people who are in an awful situation the relief that medicinal marijuana could employ but not lead to recreational marijuana, where I think it’s bad for society.”
The GOP speaker also claimed that he’s “offered” to have Democratic lawmakers engage in the discussions that his party’s members have been holding, but “they are dead set on one answer, which is full legalization, full stop.”
Agard, who spoke in depth with Marijuana Moment last month about the struggles of moving forward with cannabis reform under Republican leadership, said that she has not been brought into the loop on any negotiations that her colleagues across the aisle are reportedly having.
“Republicans have the majority and legislative Democrats are not standing in the way of them passing thoughtful medical marijuana,” she told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday, reacting to Vos’s comments.
“As the legislator who has led on marijuana legalization efforts since 2013, I would appreciate an invite to their conversation,” she said. “Of course, I support full legalization for responsible adult use, but I will not stand in the way of comprehensive progress that honors people’s individual privacy and liberties and does not choose winners and losers of pain bearers.”
While Agard pushes for a holistic end to prohibition, Vos is eyeing something far more limited.
“We’re trying to focus on what would it look like so we can give people something to react to, because if you just say, ‘what do you believe?’ people are all over the place,” he said. “Because, again, ideally, I would love for it to be something where you can get a prescription and go to Walgreens, no different than you do for your traditional medicine that you would take, but that’s a federal decision.”
“I am very reluctant to have a state-based solution, but most states have already adopted it, so we would find something that hopefully could dovetail in if it would ever become legal at the federal level,” Vos said.
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The governor, who strongly supports legalization, said in January that he does believe Republicans will introduce medical cannabis legislation this session, and he committed to signing it into law, so long as it’s not “flawed” with too many limitations.
The governor and the GOP majority have had a strained relationship on this issue. Leadership has criticized Evers for putting adult-use legalization in recent budget requests, with the Assembly speaker warning this year that including the broad reform could jeopardize talks on more modest medical marijuana legislation.
He did it anyways—and, at a joint committee hearing last month, Republicans responded in kind, stripping both recreational and medical cannabis language from the budget proposal, along with hundreds of other policy items.
At the Senate minority leader’s request, the state’s non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) carried out a study that was released in March showing that Wisconsin residents purchased more than $121 million worth of marijuana from Illinois retailers in 2022, contributing about $36 million in tax revenue to the state.
A separate report published by Wisconsin Policy Forum in February found that 50 percent of adults 21 and older in the state live within 75 minutes of an out-of-state cannabis retailer, such as in Illinois or Michigan. That percentage stands to increase when Minnesota’s market eventually comes online.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.