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Wisconsin would launch a small, state-run medical marijuana program under GOP proposal

It's a far cry from the full-scale legalization that Democrats have called for

Republican Rep. Jon Plumer unveils a GOP proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin at a Capitol news conference
Republican Rep. Jon Plumer unveils a GOP proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin at a Capitol news conference on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Scott Bauer/AP Photo

Wisconsin would launch a small-scale, state-run medical marijuana program under a GOP proposal that lawmakers say will not lead to recreational usage.

The announcement comes as Wisconsin has become something of an island in the upper Midwest, where several neighboring states have legalized cannabis for full recreational usage. Nationwide, 38 states and the District of Columbia have some type of medical marijuana law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the proposal, the state would operate five medical dispensaries across the state, according to Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, who co-authored the plan.

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Users would be limited to those with certain diagnosed medical conditions, such as cancer, seizure conditions, multiple sclerosis and severe chronic pain and nausea. State-licensed pharmacists would dispense the products, which would include edibles and oils, but not smokable products.

Those products would use marijuana grown and processed by independent entities who would receive state licenses.

“We want to make this available to people, but we want to have tight controls on it as well,” said Plumer at a press conference announcing the proposal on Monday, where he also suggested that the program could eventually expand beyond just five dispensaries depending on demand and outcomes.

It’s a far cry from what many Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers, have called for. Evers has proposed full recreational legalization in his budgets, which Republicans have called a non-starter.

Last year, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, hinted at internal divides within the Republican caucus over concerns that medical marijuana would serve as a gateway to recreational usage. In a recent interview with WISN-TV, he said the Wisconsin proposal would “probably be the most restrictive” medical marijuana program in the United States.

“We are not going to have something like other states do where you can walk in and say, ‘I don’t feel well,’ and they give you a gummy bear,” he said.

Vos said the GOP-held legislature does not want to build a marijuana industry similar to those in Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota, which have fully legalized cannabis, and where private dispensaries function more similarly to bars.

Plumer said Monday the GOP bill was not designed to generate tax revenue for the state.

“It’s designed to be a break-even program,” Plumer said.

The bill would also need to be taken up in the Senate to pass. There, Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, has championed previous attempts at passing medical marijuana. In a statement, she said that while she celebrates “any progress towards providing those in need with access to medical marijuana,” she has concerns about running the program through the state, rather than the private sector.

“I am a firm believer that private entities, run by those with expertise in this area of medicine, are more efficient and more effective than any government agency. Taking this option off the table is the primary cause of my unease at this time,” she said.

An Evers spokesperson told WPR that the Governor “will be reviewing” the proposal, and that he “looks forward to hearing from Wisconsinites and other stakeholders as the bill moves through the legislative process.”

Evers said last week that, while he supports full legalization, he can “get behind” medical proposals if they are not overly restrictive or contain unrelated provisions.