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Wisconsin Governor Says He Can Support GOP Medical Cannabis Legalization Plan

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers said last week that he can support a medical marijuana legalization bill, acknowledging that more comprehensive cannabis policy reform is unlikely to be approved by the state’s Republican majority legislature. 

Evers has long supported legalizing recreational marijuana and has twice included plans to regulate and tax adult-use cannabis in state budget proposals. But Republican leaders in the state legislature have resisted calls to legalize recreational cannabis and declined to approve the governor’s proposals.

Late last month, Republican leaders announced their intention to introduce a limited medical marijuana legalization bill in this year’s legislative session. On Wednesday, Evers said that he could potentially support the legislation, although he made it clear he preferred a broader marijuana legalization plan.

“I would think that getting it all done in one fell swoop would be more thoughtful as far as meeting the needs of Wisconsinites that have asked for it,” Evers said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But if that’s what we can accomplish right now, I’ll be supportive of that.”

In a separate interview, Evers clarified that he would support a clean medical marijuana legalization bill that avoids controversial provisions in order to make progress on cannabis policy reform this year.

“Yes I would [be supportive] if there’s no poison pills,” Evers told local media.

“Do I think we need to consider recreational marijuana? Of course,” the governor added. “I’ve been for it, so are a majority of the people [of] Wisconsin, but if this is a step in the right direction, let’s make it happen.”

GOP MMJ Legalization Bill Coming Soon

Republican lawmakers have been working on a medical cannabis legalization bill behind closed doors for months. In December, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that the bill would be ready for the chamber as soon as this month. He added that he believes the Republican majority could approve the bill without support from Democrats seeking broader cannabis policy reform measures.

“We have a bill that we’ll introduce in January on medical marijuana,” Vos told reporters. “Our caucus has spent a lot of time reaching a consensus among itself to make sure that we knew we had 50 Republican votes to be able to pass it. Because unfortunately my Democratic colleagues have said if we don’t go full recreational marijuana they’re not interested.”

Vos said that the bill would be limited and modeled after the medical marijuana program in neighboring Minnesota before the state legalized recreational marijuana last year.

“It is not going to be widespread,” Vos said in an interview cited by the Associated Press. “We are not going to have dispensaries on every corner in every city.”

Wisconsin has become an island of marijuana prohibition as neighboring states Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota all legalized cannabis for adults over the past few years. Republican lawmakers acknowledge that some Wisconsinites believe it is time for their state to catch up.

“People have been frustrated because they think it took us too long,” Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Well, because it took us a long time to reach consensus. Because part of the problem that I fear is that Democrats want everything or nothing.”

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said there is a chance that a medical marijuana legalization measure could gain the support of a majority of the state’s lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session.

“Depending on how that … bill is drawn up, there’s a potential of getting it through both houses, but I don’t know,” LeMahieu said. “I think they’re just working through the details. So if they get on the same page, then potentially.”

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer said Democrats in the legislature were open to discussing the GOP medical marijuana legalization plan.

“We 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,” Neubauer said last month.

More Proposals Pending

Other proposals to reform cannabis policy in Wisconsin are already pending in the state legislature. In September, Democratic state Senator Melissa Agard introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana. She said last month that she might support a more limited bill that only legalizes medical marijuana, but “I remain skeptical as to whether or not this is it,” adding her offer to help Republicans with the legislation was rejected.

Additionally, a bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers last month introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The legislation, which was unveiled by the legislators earlier month, would end criminal penalties for possession of up to half an ounce of marijuana, making such offenses punishable by a fine of up to $100. Those convicted of simple marijuana possession would no longer be subject to time behind bars. 

Cannabis policy is widely supported by Wisconsin voters. In a recent Marquette Law School Poll, 64% of adults surveyed supported legalizing marijuana in Wisconsin. In 2019, the poll found 83% said they were in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

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