Medical Cannabis Bill Dies in Wisconsin Legislature

A Republican-led proposal to legalize medical cannabis in the state officially died on Thursday, and although the GOP speaker of the assembly indicated that “there will still be a public hearing to build support for passage next session,” per the Associated Press, that “won’t occur until after the Assembly has adjourned for this year.”

Wisconsin is one of the few remaining states in the U.S. where neither medical nor recreational marijuana are legal. It is one of only 12 states with no medicinal law, and one of 26 that has not legalized recreational pot, according to The Center Square, an outlet that covers state-level politics.

The medical marijuana bill was “highly restrictive,” the Associated Press said, adding that the measure “drew opposition for being too conservative in severely limiting who could have access to medical marijuana and how it would be distributed, while others faulted it for not going far enough.”

The bill, pushed by GOP lawmakers who control both chambers of the state legislature, “would limit medical marijuana to severely ill people and allow for it to be dispensed at just five state-run locations,” while also banning smokable cannabis.

“The proposal would limit the availability of marijuana to people diagnosed with certain diseases, including cancer, HIV or AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, severe muscle spasms, chronic pain or nausea, and those with a terminal illness and less than a year to live,” the Associated Press reported.

This year’s legislative session in Wisconsin ends next week.

Democrats in the Badger State, including Gov. Tony Evers, have advocated for outright marijuana legalization. 

Evers said last month that he would support the Republican-backed medical marijuana proposal, suggesting that it could be a meaningful first step toward broader cannabis reform in Wisconsin.

“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 at the time. “But if that’s what we can accomplish right now, I’ll be supportive of that.”

“Do I think we need to consider recreational marijuana? Of course,” Evers 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.”

Indeed, Evers, currently serving his second term as governor, has long been an outspoken champion of ending prohibition on pot.

Evers and other Wisconsin Democrats have contended that the state is losing valuable tax revenue to neighboring states in the Great Lakes region that have legalized adult-use marijuana. 

An economic analysis released last year found that Illinois, which began recreational pot sales in 2020, rakes in tens of millions of dollars a year from Wisconsinites who travel across the border for legal weed. 

“It should upset every Wisconsinite that our hard earned tax dollars are going across the border to Illinois. This is revenue that could be going toward Wisconsin’s public schools, transportation infrastructure, and public safety. Instead, Illinois is reaping the benefits of Republican obstructionism and their prohibitionist stance on marijuana legalization,” Melissa Agard, at the time the Democratic leader in the Wisconsin state senate, said in a statement following the release of the analysis.

“We are an island of prohibition and the people of our state are hurting because of it. As seen in our neighboring states, legalizing marijuana for responsible adult usage will generate significant revenue for our mainstreets, safely regulate the existing illicit market, reinvest in our agriculture and farming heritage, support entrepreneurship, and address the massive and egregious racial disparities from marijuana prohibition.”

Agard noted that “Wisconsinites paid more than $31 million – just in taxes – to Illinois in 2022,” and that the state’s “loss of potential revenue is even larger if we include taxes paid to Michigan, as well as Minnesota in the near future.”

“Republicans’ continued refusal to legalize marijuana is fiscally irresponsible…Wisconsin is losing out on significant tax dollars that could be used to make our communities stronger, safer, and healthier,” she said.

“The fundamental aspect of our job as legislators is to listen to the people we represent. The people of Wisconsin have been asking the legislature to take up common sense measures that will push our state forward. We know that legalizing cannabis for responsible adult use is wildly popular among Wisconsinites, including the majority of Republicans,” Agard added. “I fully support Governor Evers’ 2025-25 biennial budget proposal to fully legalize marijuana for responsible adult use, and if Republicans choose to remove it from the budget, I will once again introduce my bill to achieve this goal.  It’s high time we get this done for the betterment of our state and the people living here.”

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