2 medical marijuana proposals surface in Wisconsin

37 states have legalized cannabis for medical use across the US

Green leaves of a hemp plant can be seen from above.
A plant grows in a greenhouse at 3 Tall Pines Farm Friday, Nov. 5, in Plymouth, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

There are dueling legislative proposals to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin — one from each party. But with disagreement over whether and how Wisconsin might do this, the path forward isn’t clear, even as more than half the states in the U.S. already allow it.

Under a bill introduced Monday by Democrats, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services would establish a medical cannabis registry accessible with a doctor’s permission to those with debilitating conditions including cancer and AIDS.

There would also be a licensing system for growers, producer and sellers under the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Under the proposal, by Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-West Point, and Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, a licensed producer would only be allowed to distribute to licensed processors and would be prohibited from growing medical cannabis for personal, family or household use. The bill also allows anyone to grow up to 12 plants on their own without getting a license.

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Another bill introduced by Republicans would create a Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission under the state Department of Revenue. The bill was introduced last month by Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, and Rep. Patrick Snyder, R-Schofield. Qualified primary care providers would have the option to provide marijuana recommendations to their patients in a liquid, oil, pill, tincture or topical form.

Felzkowski said smoking was not included because some Assembly members were concerned last session about secondhand smoke to children and others. The goal now, she said, is to start discussing the issue. It’s the second time Felzkowski has sponsored medical marijuana legislation. She advocated for a similar bill in 2019.

“It’s a matter of getting the conversation started. People on both sides of the aisle are in favor of it; people on both sides of the aisle are against it,” Felzkowski said during a roundtable discussion with other lawmakers hosted by Wisconsin Health News Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers both support legalizing medical marijuana. Felzkowski said Tuesday she hopes for a hearing on her bill in the Senate, where if faces long odds. Sen. Majority Leader Devin Lemehieu, R-Oostburg, has argued states should not move to legalize medical marijuana before the federal government.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states allow for the medical use of cannabis products, with Mississippi being the most recent.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information on Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Dianne Hesselbein’s bill.