Will Wisconsin finally move on medical cannabis in 2023?
Wisconsin is lagging behind the times on cannabis policy reform. While neighboring Michigan and Illinois have legalized cannabis for adults’ use, and Minnesota has a medical cannabis program, Wisconsin remains stubbornly behind the times. It is one of only 19 states that still imposes jail on simple possession of cannabis, and one of only 13 that lacks a compassionate medical cannabis law.
Wisconsin doesn’t allow statewide citizen-initiated ballot measures, meaning the only way to improve statewide cannabis policies is to convince the legislature to do so. In early January, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) said his caucus is “close” to moving medical cannabis forward.
In the Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos (R), has said he would support a restrictive medical cannabis program, but no such bill has advanced in his chamber. On January 29, he said “we’re not that close” and claimed "Every time Gov. 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.”
Meanwhile, voters are far ahead of their legislators. In November 2018, around a million Wisconsin voters approved advisory questions on their ballots calling for more humane cannabis laws. 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.
It’s important lawmakers hear their constituents care about humane, sensible cannabis policies. Write your lawmakers on one of these issues:
In early 2020, the ACLU released an updated national report on unequal cannabis enforcement nationwide and state-by-state. Its A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reformfound that in 2018, Black individuals were 4.2 times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession as white people in Wisconsin, despite similar use rates. This made the state the 14th worst in terms of racial disparities in cannabis enforcement.
While legalization does not eliminate unequal enforcement, it dramatically reduces the total number of arrests. Five of the seven states with the lowest disparities were states with legalization laws.
Medical cannabis update
Wisconsin has become an anomaly when it comes to compassionate medical cannabis legislation. Thirty-seven other states, including deep red states like Utah, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and North and South Dakota, have enacted effective medical cannabis programs. But in Wisconsin, the only progress that has been made is a very limited law focused on a non-psychoactive component of cannabis, CBD.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Wisconsin, be sure to subscribe to MPP's alerts, if you haven't done so already.
Today, the Wisconsin Legislature reconvenes for the year. Because Wisconsin lacks a citizen initiative process, the legislature alone is responsible for crafting laws in the Badger State. Outrageously, Wisconsin’s cannabis laws are among the most out-of-step with voters of any state in the country.