Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly leader says he now plans to unveil a restrictive medical marijuana bill next month, and he believes it will have enough support to move through both chambers of the GOP-controlled legislature in 2024.
In a series of end-of-year interviews with local media outlets that were published on Thursday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said the much-anticipated legislation is nearly ready for prime time—the product of extensive internal talks within the Republican caucus over recent months.
As expected, the bill will only provide for limited reform, allowing patients with serious conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV and chronic pain to access cannabis products in pill and oil form, he told Wisconsin State Journal.
The text of the proposal has yet to be released, but Vos said it’s being modeled after a conservative medical marijuana law that neighboring Minnesota enacted before adopting more expansive legalization this year.
The speaker said that he recognizes “people have been frustrated because they think it took us too long” to craft the legislation, which has involved six or eight hours-long meetings with lawmakers. Vos himself has previously put forward timelines that didn’t materialize, including an unmet goal to introduce the bill by this fall.
“I hope we have a consensus in our caucus that we can actually move the bill forward,” Vos said in an interview with Wisconsin Eye. “Sometimes it takes a while to get it done.”
The reason for the delay is “because it took us a long time to reach consensus” and partly because he fears “that Democrats want everything or nothing,” he told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Democratic legislators haven’t necessarily ruled out passing an incremental medical cannabis bill, though they have pushed for comprehensive legalization and voiced skepticism about the prospect of enacting a seriously restrictive medical program.
Asked about the yet-unseen GOP bill, Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer (D) said on Thursday that Democrats “hope that it’s a serious proposal from our colleagues that addresses the past harms that have been caused by the criminalization of marijuana and that really allows access for the people who need it.”
Vos’s stated concerns about Democratic buy-in also echoes comments from Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R), who is working on separate medical cannabis legislation and said that efforts to push adult-use legalization have complicated Republicans’ work on modest reform.
Sen. Melissa Agard (D), who is sponsoring a recreational legalization bill again this session, has challenged that position, pointing out throughout the year that the GOP majority sets the agenda and could advance medical marijuana reform at any point but have yet to do so.
Agard, who recently stepped down as Senate minority leader to pursue a run for Dane County executive, told Marijuana Moment earlier this week that “the devil is in the details with all policy making,” and “actions speak louder than words.”
That followed remarks from Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R), who said this month there’s “potentially” a path to pass a medical marijuana bill in the 2024 session—but it’d have to be strictly limited.
In a new interview, LeMahieu reiterated that “there’s a potential” of passing medical cannabis through both chambers next year, “but I don’t know.” He said it depends “on how that bill is drawn up.”
“I think they’re just working through the details,” he said of Felzkowski and Vos, who have been meeting to reach consensus on the issue. “So if they get on the same page, then potentially.”
The Assembly speaker, meanwhile, said the bill he intends to file in January is avoid the perception that legalizing medical cannabis signals that “someday we’ll have recreational.”
“It is not going to be widespread,” he separately told The Associated Press. “We are not going to have dispensaries on every corner in every city.”
He said it’s important to avoid giving the impression that medical cannabis is a stepping stone to full legalization, arguing that it would make Republicans’ efforts to pass the incremental reform more challenging if people hold that perception.
“I just think the problem in America is not too few people using drugs,” Vos added.
The speaker further said that most of the members he’s discussed his proposal with are on board “in concept,” though he can’t “guarantee anything until we have a wider discussion.”
“I feel pretty good that we’re in a place where I think it can get through our chamber,” he said.
Agard, the adult-use legalization bill sponsor, has separately urged the public to pressure their representatives to hold a hearing on her reform legislation.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) has also continued to push for legalization, writing on Monday that the GOP legislature’s inaction means 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 recently granted another round of pardons, including dozens issued for people with prior marijuana convictions, last month.
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The state Department of Revenue released a fiscal estimate of the economic impact of Agard’s legalization bill last month, 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 last year, 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, bipartisan Wisconsin lawmakers said recently they will soon be introducing a bill to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession in the state—an incremental reform that they hope will break the logjam on cannabis policy.
Separately, bipartisan and bicameral Wisconsin lawmakers have also came together to introduce a bill that would create a psilocybin research pilot program in the state.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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