GOP leaders signal progress towards legalizing in WI

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GOP leaders signal progress towards legalizing in WI

Wisconsin Republican Leaders Plan to Introduce Medical Marijuana Bill in January.

For years, discussions about legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin have stalled, but Republican legislative leaders are now showing interest in passing legislation to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in the new year.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said his caucus plans to unveil a medical marijuana bill in January. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Rochester) believes there's a "path" to passing medical marijuana legislation in his chamber.

"Most Assembly Republicans I talk to are in favor of some version of medical marijuana and it's taken us a while to make sure we have the votes," Vos said.

Vos did not reveal the details of what's included in the bill, but he suggested it would reflect some aspects of Minnesota's medical marijuana program that launched in 2015.

This year Minnesota became the 23rd state to legalize recreational cannabis. Prior to that, it was only legal to use in some forms for medical purposes such as oils, pills and other non-smokeable products.

Vos says support is building in his caucus for a similar medical marijuana program in Wisconsin.

"When [Minnesota] started their program, it wasn't widespread, it wasn't on every street corner, it wasn't like other states have done - it was more of a controlled mechanism," Vos said.

Senate Republicans are also moving closer to backing medical marijuana, LeMahieu said.

"The devil is always in the details on a bill like that, but I think there is a path to get it through our caucus," LeMahieu said.

Both Vos and LeMahieu have previously said they only support launching a medical marijuana program that focuses on treating chronic pain.

While there are few known details about the GOP bill, proposals to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes have yet to gain momentum in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Last year was the first time a marijuana proposal received a public hearing since 2009, but the bill never advanced out of committee.

That proposal, authored by Republican Sen. Mary Felzkowski, would have partially legalized cannabis for medical purposes. Felzkowski, who's reportedly working on a medical cannabis bill, did not respond to request for comment.

Any bill that is proposed is unlikely to receive praise from Democrats. Many are opposed to restrictive marijuana laws and prefer measures to legalize cannabis for recreational use.

Democratic Senator Melissa Agard, a longtime champion of cannabis legalization, was skeptical about Republicans' commitment to medical marijuana.

"The bills that have been brought forth in previous sessions have missed the mark for our caucus," Agard said. "If we are actually going to address the public safety issues, if we are actually going to address people's access…full legalization is the way to go."

Gov. Tony Evers’ 2023-25 biennial budget included a plan to legalize marijuana for individuals 21 or older, but it was quickly rejected by Republicans.

Polling has shown broad support for a marijuana program in Wisconsin.

Sixty-nine percent of Wisconsin residents support legalizing marijuana, according to polling conducted by Marquette University Law School last year.

Even more Wisconsinites, 83%, said they back legalizing medical marijuana if it's prescribed by a doctor a similar MU poll found in 2019.

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Region: Wisconsin

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