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Wisconsin would operate five dispensaries under limited medical marijuana legalization program

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Assembly Republicans announced a limited proposal Monday to make medical marijuana available for Wisconsinites with certain medical conditions and received mixed reactions from lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers. 

At a press conference in the state Capitol, Rep. Jon Plumer (R-Lodi) called the bill a “really strong starting point.”  Under the plan, five state-run dispensaries would be established where eligible patients could access certain “medical cannabis products” including oils, edibles, pills, gels and vapors. The bill excludes cannabis that can be smoked. 

“We want to make this available to people, but we want to have tight controls on it as well,” Plumer said.  

The bill would create the Office of Medical Cannabis Regulation in the state Department of Health Services, which would be required to maintain a registry of patients and caregivers who could purchase medical cannabis products from one of the state-run dispensaries.

Access would be limited to patients with certain medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe chronic pain, severe muscle spasms, severe chronic nausea, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year. 

A person applying to be placed on a registry as a patient would be required to be a permanent resident of this state and not be on parole, probation or extended supervision. Patients would need to get written confirmation from a prescriber that they have one of the conditions to be added to a registry. Registry patients would be able to have up to three caregivers who could purchase products on their behalf. 

Plumer said that the proposed medical cannabis system would not be a tax revenue program, but rather would be a “break-even program.” According to the bill, prices of the products would only be set “at a level sufficient to recoup product and operational costs.” 

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) would be responsible for overseeing and regulating the growing of cannabis as well as the processing and testing of products. While the five dispensaries would be run by a DHS office, cannabis growers and processes would be private and licensed by DATCP.

To qualify for a grower or processor license, an applicant or 80% of a company’s principal officers or board members would be required to be residents of Wisconsin and. A person  convicted of any crime would not be eligible for a license until at least 10 years after the completion of any sentence. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said that the proposal is modeled after the program that was in place in Minnesota before it fully legalized marijuana in 2023. He said over the weekend that the Republican bill will probably be “the most restrictive version in the entire country.” 

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced bills in previous sessions to legalize medical marijuana and Democrats have pushed to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, but no efforts have been successful. Evers has also included provisions in recent budgets to legalize cannabis, but those were eliminated by Republican lawmakers. 

The lack of movement on the issue has left Wisconsin one of 12 states without any legalization even as its neighboring states — Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois — moved to legalize medicinal and recreational cannabis. According to a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum Report, about 50% of legal age Wisconsinites are within a 75-minute drive of a recreational dispensary. 

Plumer said the goal is to get the bill done by the spring and that Assembly lawmakers have had conversations with the Senate. Some senators had mixed reactions to the proposal on Monday.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk), who has coauthored medical marijuana bills in previous legislative sessions, said she welcomes the renewed attention on medical marijuana and that some concepts in the bill “sound incredibly well thought out.” However, she said the choice to create state-run dispensaries rather than “going the route of a proven, private-sector model of delivering this care” led her to remain uninvolved in the legislation. 

“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,,” Felzkowski said. “Taking this option off the table is the primary cause of my unease at this time.” 

Minority leader Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) said in a statement the proposal was a small step in the right direction, but she fears it may be too restrictive. 

“We do not need the most restrictive medicinal program in the nation, we need the most  effective,” Hesselbein said. “I look forward to reviewing the proposal in greater detail and working with community stakeholders and advocates to ensure this proposal prioritizes the needs of patients.”

Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), who has long advocated for legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, said in a statement that she was reviewing the provisions of the bill, but called it disappointing to see Republican lawmakers “acting as health professionals when they are not.” 

“As Wisconsin is increasingly an island of prohibition, putting forward an overly restrictive medical cannabis bill does not move our state in the right direction,” Agard said. She added that the bill was “picking winners and losers and it doesn’t have to be that way.” 

Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback said in an email on Monday that Evers “will be reviewing Assembly Republicans’ proposal, and he looks forward to hearing from Wisconsinites and other stakeholders as the bill moves through the legislative process.” He told the Associated Press last week that he would likely be supportive of medical marijuana legalization, though “getting it all done in one fell swoop would be more thoughtful as far as meeting the needs of Wisconsinites that have asked for it.” 

Vos also said that any push from Evers for full legalization could kill the bill. 


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