Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) wants to introduce a raft of marijuana reforms in his forthcoming budget, according to a report.
The newly sworn-in governor will seek legislation that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of cannabis, legalizes medical marijuana, extends access to CBD products, and expunges past convictions for marijuana-related misdemeanors, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal last Sunday.
Wisconsin is currently one of 17 states that has not introduced marijuana reforms in some form.
The plan sets out provisions for the creation of Wisconsin’s first medical marijuana program that would be regulated by the state’s health and agriculture departments.
Patients with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, AIDS, chronic pain, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, and glaucoma, among others, would be able to get a recommendation to use medical cannabis by their physician. The involvement of a physician would not, however, be required to legally access CBD products to treat seizures.
Evers’ proposal would also allow users, manufacturers, and distributors to handle 25 grams or less of marijuana. Cultivators, testers, and retailers would be able to apply for licenses for commercial marijuana, while home cultivation of up to 12 plants would be permitted.
Administration officials estimate that Evers’ plan would cost about $1.6 million to implement over the next two years and bring in about $2.3 million in new tax revenue alone from sales of medical marijuana.
Evers has said previously he would seek a tax structure that benefits small marijuana growers, rather than enabling monopolization for large pharmaceutical companies.
“I think the last thing the people of Wisconsin want as it relates to marijuana is that it eventually devolves into Pfizer running (the market),” he said in January. “I want it to be set up in a way that people in the state of Wisconsin feel comfortable that they can make some money by doing this work without having to essentially go broke.”
A spokesperson for Evers said that the proposals are largely modeled on that of neighboring Minnesota, except that Wisconsin patients would be able to smoke medical marijuana.
During his electoral campaign last year, Evers endorsed medical marijuana and decriminalization of cannabis possession, but he did not support recreational marijuana legalization, committing only to putting the issue before voters in a referendum.
The proposed budget does not, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, include such plans for a referendum. Rather, Evers came out in full support of marijuana legalization last month saying, “At the end of the say, do I favor legalization? Yes.”
Evers could face significant obstacles in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said that he is “open to” medical cannabis, but does not want to create a “slippery slope” leading to full legalization, which he opposes.
The state Senate could prove even more problematic. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said lawmakers would likely take any marijuana-related provision out of the budget because they want to limit the amount of policy in the state’s next two-year spending plan.
“I still don’t believe the support’s there within the Senate caucus to move in that direction, but I know that the debate’s going on nationwide,” Fitzgerald said.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, who leads the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, also expressed skepticism in January saying she didn’t think “there is strong support in the Legislature yet.”
Supporters of legalization are nonetheless heartened by the governor’s stance.
“Gov. Evers’ proposal to include medical cannabis along with cannabis decriminalization in the state budget is the most significant cannabis policy reform plan ever proposed by a Wisconsin governor,” said Gary Storck, a longtime marijuana reform advocate and publisher of the Wisconsin-based site Cannabadger. “As one who stumbled upon cannabis as a means to save my sight from glaucoma nearly 47 years ago, I’m thrilled and hope that lawmakers will adopt the budget with these provisions intact.”
In November, Wisconsin voters in 16 counties overwhelmingly approved nonbinding referendums supporting marijuana reforms on the same ballots through which Evers was elected as governor.
The governor’s budget is set to be formally announced on February 28.