The governor of Wisconsin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have significantly ramped up criminal penalties for people who use butane or similar fuels to extract marijuana.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) supports cannabis legalization, but the reform has faced strong resistance in the GOP-controlled legislature.
Rather than move to end criminalization over marijuana, lawmakers delivered a bill to the governor’s desk last week that would have made butane extraction of cannabis a Class E felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, rather than a Class I felony that carries a maximum three and a half year prison sentence.
Evers shut down that legislation on Friday, saying in a veto message that “marijuana criminalization has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially in Wisconsin where we have longstanding racial disparities in incarceration rates.”
“I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to creating additional criminal offenses or penalties related to marijuana use,” he said. “This bill represents a continuation of past policies and paradigms we know have had detrimental effects on people, families, and communities across our state while also creating a new sentencing disparity for marijuana resin.”
“States across our country—both Democrat and Republican-controlled alike—have and are taking meaningful steps to address increased incarceration rates and reduce racial disparities by investing in substance use treatment, community reentry programming, alternatives to incarceration, rehabilitation, and other data-driven, evidence-based practices we know are essential solutions to reforming our justice system. The data and science are clear on this issue, and I welcome the Legislature to start having meaningful conversations around justice reform in Wisconsin.”
When the Senate voted to approve the cannabis extraction penalty enhancement bill last month, GOP members also rejected an amendment to the measure that would have legalized adult-use cannabis.
There are some GOP Wisconsin lawmakers who are interested in pursuing more modest reform, however.
More than a dozen Republican Wisconsin lawmakers announced late last month that they are filing a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, for example.
The Republican-led medical cannabis legislation is fairly restrictive, as it prohibits smokable marijuana products and doesn’t allow patients to grow cannabis for personal use. Patients could only obtain cannabis preparations in the form of oils, pills, tinctures or topicals.
What it would do is allow doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to patients with one of eight conditions, including cancer, seizure disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis.
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“Medicine is never one-size-fits-all, and it is time for Wisconsin to join the majority of the country in adding another option which may help patients find the relief they need,” a co-sponsorship memo for the bill says.
The memo also discusses how voters in multiple cities and counties across Wisconsin have strongly approved local, non-binding ballot referendums expressing support for marijuana reform in recent years.
This isn’t the only cannabis bill that’s up for consideration in the Wisconsin legislature.
In November, a bipartisan pair of legislators introduced a bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession. In August, three senators separately filed legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use in the state.
As it stands, marijuana possession is punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for a first offense. People convicted of a subsequent offense would face a felony charge punishable by a maximum $10,000 fine and up to three and a half years in prison.
The governor tried to legalize recreational and medical marijuana through his proposed state budget last year, but a GOP-led legislative committee stripped the cannabis language from the legislation. Democrats tried to add the provisions back through an amendment the next month, but Republicans blocked the move.
Other Republican lawmakers have filed bills to more modestly decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, but none of those proposals advanced during last year’s session.
Evers held a virtual town hall event last year where he discussed his cannabis proposal, emphasizing that polling demonstrates that Wisconsin residents back the policy change.
And in the interim as lawmakers pursue reform, the governor has issued more than 300 pardons during his years in office, primarily to people convicted of non-violent marijuana or other drug offenses.
Read the governor’s veto message on the cannabis penalties bill below: