Both bills at the state capitol would only legalize medical marijuana. But each has its own caveats for how that would happen
One, a G-O-P bill, would create a regulatory commission that enforces and regulates the distribution and sale of cannabis. It would require patients and doctors to obtain a registration card.
The G-O-P bill would also put restrictions on the product itself. You couldn’t smoke it – the bill would only legalize forms like pills, tinctures, oils or liquids.
The G-O-P bill would make it impossible to consume legal cannabis without going through a doctor and a pharmaceutical manufacturer, and it would also bar patients with drug convictions from obtaining medical marijuana The bill also comes with a range of application and license fees for businesses.
The Republican bill was introduced by state senators Pat Snyder and Mary Felzkowski. In late 2019, Felzkowski floated a similar bill in the state legislature, after her own experiences in battling cancer.
“I had a lot of medication. Eighteen weeks of chemo, seven weeks of radiation. And just, a lot of side effects to the drugs they had given us. At that time, medical marijuana came up. I asked my oncologist, do you support it? And he said, ‘Mary, it’s one of those things it might work for Jim, it won’t work for Sally, it’ll help Paul, but it won’t help Sam. So it’s another tool in the toolbox. He said anything we can do, without side effects, to help patients, I will support.”
But that bill died in the state legislature, after a sharp lack of support from then-Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
A second, Democratic sponsored bill would also create a registry system. But, it wouldn’t require doctors to register.
The Democratic bill would also leave more flexibility for who can consume the product, where patients can obtain marijuana, and what form they can consume it. Patients would be permitted to have up to 12 plants and 3 ounces of leaves and flowers.
Both bills also require the cannabis to be tested regularly in laboratories for safety and tracking of THC levels. And importantly, both bills deal with medical marijuana and do not legalize it for recreational use.
Representative Dianne Hesselbein is a lead sponsor on the democratic bill.
“When the republicans put out their medical marijuana bill it made me think that ‘Is there movement in the correct direction?’ and I don’t think their bill was drafted right, like I mentioned they have an entire commission they want to set up. So this bill is supposed to give patients medical marijuana if their doctor sees fit that they should have it.” Hesselbein said.
In 2019, a Marquette Law School Poll found that 83 percent of Wisconsinites supported the use of medical marijuana, with a doctor’s prescription. A smaller majority of Wisconsinites – 59 percent – approved of legalizing all marijuana use.
Again, Representative Hesselbein.
“I honestly think that medical marijuana for the state of Wisconsin could be a step in the right direction. We’ve had people contact our office for years, especially people with cancer and other debilitating illnesses saying that this would help them or their families so much. And I’m hoping that across the state of Wisconsin people are going to contact their legislators and say the same thing. And maybe that will keep the conversation going with Republicans and maybe someday they will schedule some of these bills for hearings.”
Democratic Senator Melissa Agard has introduced several bills over the years to completely legalize cannabis in Wisconsin for all uses. Her past bills have died in the legislature, after getting little bipartisan support. Governor Evers proposed a similar effort in his budget proposal last year, which also did not make it past the legislature. ,
Agard says neither bill goes far enough.
“I think that it is vitally important that we realize that it is through these policies our job to move away from prohibition and provide safe access to a plant that provides people, whether we’re talking about medicinal or responsible adult usage, that provides people with some sort of relief or enjoyment. Creating hurdles of access I think moves us in the wrong direction.
Legalization could be a path toward inequitable incarceration rates in the state. A report released last fall found that Wisconsin incarcerates Black residents at a higher rate than any other state. And a 2019 study found that while marijuana usage is about equal across racial and ethnic groups, Black Wisconsinites are more than 4 times more likely than their white counterparts to be convicted for possessing the drug.