By Alexandria Staubach
Assembly Republicans have announced long-awaited medical marijuana legislation.
The plan calls for the state to run five dispensaries supplied by private growers and processors. According to Rep. Jon Plumer, (R–Lodi), the plan is for a “break even program,” meaning the state will see no tax revenue.
Wisconsin would become the only state with legalized marijuana program to run its own dispensaries.
Only smokeless products would be available.
Doctors would not prescribe medical marijuana. Instead, they would sign off that a patient has one or more qualifying conditions, which include HIV/AIDS, severe chronic pain, severe chronic nausea, cancer, and terminal illness with life expectancy of less than one year. The state would then provide medical marijuana products to patients with qualifying conditions.
An infirm patient could identify up to three caregivers eligible to pick up the marijuana products.
At a press conference to introduce the legislation, Plumer said Republicans want to “make this available to people but we want to have tight controls as well.”
He said he anticipates support in the Assembly and Senate and that lawmakers will be able to pass the plan this spring.
Wisconsin is one of only 12 states maintaining a total ban on marijuana products. Wisconsin is bordered by three states with legalized recreational marijuana: Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois.
Meanwhile, the federal 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and made some intoxicating forms of THC derived from legal hemp widely available in Wisconsin.
A bipartisan group of Assembly lawmakers in December 2023 introduced AB 861 to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
The bill would reduce possession of less than 14 grams, or up to a half-ounce, to a civil forfeiture offense. Such possession currently is a misdemeanor punishable with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail for a first offense. A second offense is a felony.
Reps. Shae Sortwell (R–Two Rivers), Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D–Milwaukee), and Dave Considine (D–Baraboo), and Sen. Lena Taylor (D–Milwaukee) sponsor the bill.
While municipalities would have some flexibility, the bill ensures forfeitures amounts from $100 to $250. A court could alternatively impose from 16 to 40 hours of community service. Under current law Milwaukee imposes a $1 fine for small amounts of marijuana and Madison imposes no fine.
The bill would reduce the penalty of possession or use of marijuana drug paraphernalia to a $10 civil forfeiture.
Under AB 861, previous marijuana possession convictions involving less than 28 grams would not be counted for purposes of repeat-offender laws.
The bill also would eliminate employer liability for electing not to drug test employees and prospective employees, unless otherwise required by statute.
Because current law does not use 14 or 28 grams as metrics for possession, it is unknown how many individuals would be spared incarceration or community supervision under the new law. However, in 2022, 2,289 individuals were charged with a cannabis offense in the absence of some additional, greater offense, per a Badger Institute report.
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