It’s about time on medical Marijuana for Wisconsin

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It’s about time on medical Marijuana for Wisconsin

We’re glad to see Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans moving toward a bill to allow medical marijuana in the state. 

While it’s not perfect, it’s an important step in the right direction.

The last time we talked about the issue here was back in April 2023. That was when Robin Vos, the Assembly’s speaker, announced he was working with his fellow Republicans on some form of medical marijuana bill. The results took longer than one might have expected at that time, but last week officials presented the broad outlines for the public.

The proposal looks a lot more like some of the earliest state laws on the issue than it does legislation passed in numerous states over the past couple years. Sales are limited to severely ill individuals in most cases. Cancer patients would have access, as would people with multiple sclerosis. Glaucoma patients could use marijuana, as could people who have severe muscle spasms, chronic pain or nausea.

The most open category is for those who are terminally ill and are expected to have less than a year to live. Every category would require a doctor’s diagnosis and purchases would be allowed only at one of five state dispensaries. While that figure could increase, that’s where things would start.

The proposal doesn’t go as far as most Wisconsin residents would probably prefer. An October 2022 poll from Marquette University showed 64% of Wisconsin residents favored full legalization of recreational marijuana, while a whopping 83% favored allowing it for medical uses. There’s no reason to believe those numbers are lower today.

The overwhelming support for medical marijuana means there is phenomenally little risk for politicians backing this step. You probably wouldn’t get that kind of approval for a proposal to eliminate the state’s income tax, or virtually any other step a legislature could take.

This isn’t a done deal just yet, though. The Legislature still has to vote on it, with passage in the Assembly and Senate likely but not assured. Gov. Tony Evers, who has urged legislators to approve full recreational legalization, has signaled he will sign the bill if it passes.

It’s cynical — though probably accurate — to tie the announcement to the beginning of an election year. The extraordinarily strong appeal of such legislation gave politicians cover, and very few will willingly leave such a club laying around for an opponent to beat them with during a campaign. That meant the years of foot-dragging was incompatible with hopes for re-election for what appears to be a critical mass in the Republican caucus.

The move will, assuming it goes through as anticipated, end Wisconsin’s status as a genuine outlier in the issue of marijuana access. It is one of only a handful of states in which absolute prohibition still stands, and three neighboring states allow recreational use. While being out of step with neighbors is one thing, being that far out of synch with voters was another.

Wisconsin’s actions are a new signal, if one is needed, that the federal government’s antiquated approach to marijuana needs to change. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug — one with high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical uses — isn’t a sustainable argument.

There’s a solid medical consensus that marijuana has some valid uses. Wisconsin’s proposal aligns more with the requirements for Schedule II drugs, which have accepted medical uses with significant restrictions, than it does the DEA’s claims. And there’s a good argument for viewing it as a Schedule III drug, with accepted medical uses and varying levels of addictive potential.

Federal regulations need to change. It’s obvious the vast majority of Americans, conservative or liberal, think they’re off base. Wisconsin’s change is in line with what residents want, and it adds to the pressure to update the federal guidelines.

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Region: Wisconsin

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