Wisconsin’s top Senate Democrat is asking the public to put pressure on the state’s GOP-controlled legislature to hold a hearing on a bill to legalize marijuana that she’s sponsoring.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D) has been pushing the Republican majority to act on cannabis reform for years, and now she’s circulating an online petition to show support for a public hearing for lawmakers to finally take up the issue.
“We know that cannabis legalization is a popular policy in Wisconsin, yet Republican Legislators in the Capitol refuse to even schedule a public hearing for my bill to #LegalizeIt,” the petition says. “Legislative Republicans cannot continue to ignore the will of the people and need to hear the voices of Wisconsinites!”
— Senator Melissa Agard (@SenatorAgard) November 20, 2023
The petition also directs to a constituent services page with materials on Agard’s legalization bill, her informational illustrated “zine” on marijuana reform and other resources for people to get familiarized with the proposal, which she unveiled at a hemp farm in September.
“Please feel free to share this petition widely and be part of the conversation about this important issue,” Agard said. “Legalizing cannabis will open up new frontiers of economic opportunities, while bringing equity to our discriminatory criminal justice system. We must be willing to put aside partisan politics and prioritize the development of family-supporting jobs through the cannabis industry.”
“Our farmers are ready. Communities that have been harmed by over-enforced drug policies are ready. Our Main Streets are ready,” the petition says. “Wisconsin is ready to grow our future. We can do this folks – let’s legalize cannabis!”
People are invited to add their name and contact information for the petition, as well as their commentary on why legalization is personally important to them.
Here are the key provisions of Agard’s marijuana legalization bill:
- Adults 21 and older could possess up to five ounces of cannabis for personal use, and they could grow up to 12 plants.
- The bill would impose a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana producers for the wholesale transfer of cannabis, and a 10 percent tax on retailers and lounges for the sale of marijuana. Medical cannabis patients would not be subject to a tax. And 60 percent of tax revenue the state generates would be earmarked for a community reinvestment grant fund.
- Grants would support efforts to support industry participation by women and minorities, healthcare equity and law enforcement training to combat impaired driving.
- The state Department of Revenue (DOR) would be responsible for licensing cannabis businesses. Producers and processors would need additional permitting from the Department of Agriculture. Businesses with 20 or more employees couldn’t be licensed unless they have a labor peace agreement.
- Because Wisconsin doesn’t have a medical cannabis program, the bill dually legalizes for adult and medical use. DOR would need to create a medical marijuana registry for qualifying patients, defined as those with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer or AIDS.
- The state Department of Justice would be tasked with reviewing records to identify cases where a person was convicted of an offense the bill legalizes. If the offense was non-violent, the department would need to initiate a process to clear the person’s record.
- With certain exemptions, employers would generally be prohibited from discriminating against workers or applicants on the sole basis that they lawfully use marijuana off the employer’s premise and during non-work hours. Unemployment benefits couldn’t be denied due to cannabis use, either.
So far, arguments about the potential benefits of legalization have not translated into meaningful legislative action in the Badger State. Republican leaders have said they’re working on limited medical cannabis legislation, but a bill to that end has not yet been formally introduced this session, despite Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) saying they intended to get it out “this fall.”
Another GOP lawmaker in the state, Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R), said recently that Democrats like Agard who are advocating for comprehensive legalization are detracting from efforts to advance incremental reform. But as the minority leader has pointed out, Republicans wield control of both chambers and could theoretically move whatever version of the reform they’d like at any point.
The GOP-controlled legislature in May voted again to strip cannabis reform language from Gov. Tony Evers’s (D) budget request, which included measures on legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in the state.
As part of the Evers’s budget request this year, his office estimated that the state would generate $44.4 million in “segregated tax revenue” from legal cannabis, as well as a $10.2 million increase in state general fund tax revenue, in fiscal year 2025 if the reform is enacted.
The governor also included adult-use and medical marijuana legalization in his 2021 budget, as well as decriminalization and medical cannabis in his 2019 proposal, but the conservative legislature has consistently blocked the reform.
With respect to Agard’s bill, the state Department of Revenue released a fiscal estimate of its economic impact earlier this month, projecting that the reform would generate nearly $170 million annually in tax revenue.
Meanwhile, bipartisan and bicameral Wisconsin lawmakers recently came together to introduce a bill that would create a psilocybin research pilot program in the state.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.