New year brings new hope for marijuana policy reform
Last update: January 9, 2019
The legislature kicked off its 2019 session on January 8, and now’s the time for voters to urge their elected officials to put marijuana policy reform on the agenda.
In November 2018, around a million Wisconsin voters approved advisory questions on their ballots calling for more humane marijuana laws.
More than half of Wisconsin’s population saw cannabis-related measures on their ballots, and every single one of the measures passed. Medical cannabis questions received between 67% and 89% in the 11 counties and two cities where they appeared. Adult-use questions garnered between 60% and 76% of the vote.
In other encouraging news, voters elected a new governor — Tony Evers (D) — who supports medical marijuana and would like to put the question of legalization to voters. (In Wisconsin, voters can’t place questions on the statewide ballot themselves; only state lawmakers can refer questions to them.)
Meanwhile, in neighboring Michigan, voters overwhelmingly approved legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Let your state legislators know you want the legislature to finally listen to voters on medical cannabis. It’s past time Wisconsin roll back its cruel and wasteful war on marijuana.
Wisconsin lags behind on decriminalization and legalization
Wisconsin lags far behind most states when it comes to marijuana policy reform. While 23 states have either decriminalized or legalized cannabis for adults’ use, under Wisconsin law, possessing even the smallest amount of cannabis can result in up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. In addition to those penalties, a criminal record can have life-altering impacts, making it harder to get a job, education, and even housing.
Some thoughtful lawmakers are leading the way. On August 24, 2017, Rep. Melissa Sargent filed AB 482, a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adults. It would also create a medical program for seriously ill patients in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, in June 2017, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced S 318/A 409, which would reduce the penalty for possessing under 10 grams of marijuana to a $100 fine. Both bills carried over to 2018.
Polling shows that the majority of Wisconsin residents support ending marijuana prohibition. If lawmakers are not willing to respect that, they should at the very least take the step of eliminating the unnecessary and harmful criminal penalties for simple possession.
Medical marijuana update
Wisconsin is also becoming an anomaly when it comes to compassionate medical cannabis legislation. Thirty other states, including Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan, have enacted effective medical marijuana programs. But in Wisconsin, the only progress that has been made is a very limited law focused on a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, CBD.
On April 17, 2017, Gov. Scott Walker signed Act 4, which expanded the state’s previous limited medical cannabis law, Lydia’s law, enacted in 2014. The original law allowed patients with documentation of a seizure disorder to possess CBD treatments, but it did not legalize the production of CBD products in the state. Act 4 expanded the program to protect all patients who possess CBD and have a letter from their physician. Unfortunately, it remained illegal to produce or distribute CBD products. Sen. Chris Larson and Rep. Jimmy P. Anderson introduced legislation (S 104/A 158) that would allow state-licensed businesses to produce and dispense CBD treatment products.
In late 2017, the state enacted a pilot program to license industrial hemp production, which seemed to provide a potential means of access. However, in April 2018, Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a memo saying licensed hemp producers could not extract and sell CBD oils from the plants. While he rescinded the memo in May 2018, some uncertainty remains and sales have not begun.
Meanwhile, there are a number of “CBD” products available online or in stores, but these products are typically unregulated, and consumers should be cautious. Unfortunately, some products do not actually contain the amount of CBD on the label — or any at all — or they may also contain THC or dangerous compounds such as heavy metals. CBD oil sold in licensed cannabis retailers in states like Colorado, with a regulated market, are subject to laboratory testing, but getting to such stores could be costly and onerous for patients in Wisconsin.
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