, , ,

Top GOP leader says lawmakers ‘not that close’ on legalizing medical marijuana

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says some Republican lawmakers may see any legalization as a gateway

Medical marijuana prescription vials, cannabis
Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

Wisconsin GOP lawmakers may be further away from taking up medical marijuana legislation this session than previously thought, based on comments from one of the Legislature’s top Republicans.

In an interview that aired Sunday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told WISN-TV “we’re not that close” on legalizing medical marijuana. He suggested that some Assembly Republicans feel it would be a gateway to recreational marijuana.

“Every time Gov. (Tony) Evers brings up the idea of recreational marijuana, that scares away a whole bunch of people who say, ‘We do not need to become like Illinois or Michigan,’” Vos said.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Both states have legal weed available both medicinally and recreationally, while Wisconsin’s neighbor to the west, Minnesota, offers forms of legal medical marijuana, and is likely to legalize recreational marijuana this spring.

Vos has previously told Wisconsin Public Radio he supports limited access to medical marijuana, a position he reiterated to WISN-TV.

“If we are going to do medical marijuana, it has nothing to do with generating taxes for the state. And it has nothing to do with creating a new industry,” he said. “It should be all about helping people who through no fault of their own have a chronic disease that is awful to deal with.”

Evers has long said he wants Wisconsin to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. In December, he told WPR that he will propose legalizing weed in his upcoming state budget — as he did in 2021. He also said that he would pass a standalone medical marijuana bill if the Legislature brings him one.

Senate Republicans have recently suggested they are moving forward on passing a medical marijuana bill. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in early January that his GOP caucus is “close” to moving such a bill forward.

Like Vos, LeMahieu told the newspaper their bill would tightly limit the type of medical needs that such a bill would serve.

Legalizing marijuana is popular among Wisconsin voters. According to a 2022 Marquette University Law School poll, about 61 percent support full legalization, including about half of Republicans. A 2019 Marquette University Law School poll found larger support — 83 percent — for medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana also has strong support from some Republican lawmakers. Notably, state Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, has been vocal in expressing that she could have used medical marijuana during cancer treatments.

Felzkowski introduced a medical marijuana bill in 2019 and a similar one in 2021, neither of which moved forward in the Legislature. Last spring, Republican lawmakers held a public hearing on the issue, but it came after the legislative session had ended.

Felzkowski declined to comment to WPR.

Speaking on Sunday, Vos suggested medical marijuana will only move forward this session with a “middle ground consensus.” His office did not respond to WPR’s requests for comment about what that consensus would look like.

Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow for medical marijuana use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.