In 33 states and DC, marijuna can be prescribed as a part of medical treatment. It’s used to treat patients with chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, and several other ailments.
But in Wisconsin, marijuana is not a legal treatment–despite efforts by Governor Evers and Democratic state lawmakers.
Two Republican lawmakers today announced legislation that could legalize medical marijuana. But the bills are more limited than those of their Democratic counterparts.
The new bill would allow medical marijuana but it would be in the form of a liquid, oil, pill, tincture or in a form that is applied topically–like a patch or ointment.
In an interview with Channel 3000 earlier this year, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he could support this type of medical marijuana.
“For me it shouldn’t be smoked, it should be taken in a pill form. It shouldn’t be an edible so a child can’t get at it,” said Vos.
Wisconsin State Senator Kathy Bernier and State Representative Mary Felzkowski authored the bill. Felzkowski says that they wrote a bill the caucus could support.
“There was a real concern with the use affecting others. Smoking was a big thing. So, if I’m smoking, my children are in the room, there could be some secondhand smoke and effects on other people.”
She says there was also a concern of children getting into edibles, which is why they are not a form of marijuana allowed by the bill.
But folks who can’t swallow a pill could still use a tincture or patch.
Felzkowski is a cancer survivor herself. She says she talked with other survivors and her doctor about using marijuana when she was undergoing treatment.
“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.”
Now, Felzkowski says medical marijuana should be an option for people to use when they are sick.
“Marijuana is a natural product. The side effects aren’t there. I know terminal patients who have used it, it allows them to eat and keep their strength up, and they get a little bit more time with their loved ones. And this is us just saying, this is your body, you’re not harming anyone else by what you put into it, this is about you, and we’re giving you the right and the access (with the consultation of your physician) to make that call for yourself,” says Felzkowski.
The new bill would create a commission to oversee the operation of medical marijuana. They would give licences to producers, monitor growing, and issue medical marijuana cards.
The commission would also be in charge of creating an online certification for doctors. A doctor who completed the certification could recommend a patient for medical marijuana–they would then take that recommendation to a dispensary.
The bill has a limited number of conditions under which medical marijuana can be prescribed by a doctor or nurse. Those cases include cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Crohn’s Disease, post traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and seizure disorders.
But the commission could also vote to expand the number of medical conditions that can be treated with weed.
This bill is a more moderate version of other legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin. Felzkowski says her bill is more likely to get a hearing. She calls the other legislation, authored by Wisconsin state Representative Chris Taylor, much looser.
“It’s the wild wild west, compared to what we put out there.”
But Representative Taylor argues her legislation, which was introduced in October, had bipartisan support. She calls her bill more compassionate.
“Our bill allows people to access medical marijuana in whatever form works for them. They can smoke it, they can vaporize it, in whatever form; they can use any part of the plant. The bill that rolled out today, unfortunately, I don’t believe reflects what advocates and patients say they need. It’s more a bill for the pharmaceutical industry.”
Taylor says her bill considers folks who might not have access to a dispensary by allowing anyone with a medical marijuana permit to grow up to twelve plants.
“The travesty and the tragedy of it, is that there are going to be people who cannot get access to [marijuana] and who really need it, under her bill, and who would be able to get it under ours. And so, you know, I’m here to advocate for people, not politicians,” says Taylor.
Her bill creates a system for growers, producers, and distributors to be regulated by the state agriculture agency.
Taylor says the fees for producers under her bill are affordable. Under her bill producers would pay a $250 application fee and an annual fee of $5,000. Under Felzkowski’s bill, a producer would pay an application fee of up to $10,000 and an annual fee of up to $200,000.
If marijuana is ever going to be legalized in Wisconsin, it’ll have to be done by lawmakers at the Capitol. In some other states, voters have the ability to put an issue on a statewide ballot. Ballot measures are how eight states have legalized recreational marijuana.
But that’s not an option in Wisconsin.
Voters can act on a statewide advisory referendum, but that doesn’t create a law. On Election Day in November 2018, voters in 16 counties voted on referenda about legalization of medical or recreational weed. A majority supported the referendum in their counties.