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Sargent cannabis legalization bill faces uncertain future in committee

Wisconsin's pot legalization bill has a bill number and a committee assignment. Will majority Republicans give the bill a public hearing? (Photo copyright Cannabadger.com)
Wisconsin’s pot legalization bill has a bill number and a committee assignment. Will majority Republicans give the bill a public hearing? (Photo copyright Cannabadger.com)

The hybrid cannabis legalization/medical cannabis bill sponsored by Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) LRB-0188 has been formally introduced and assigned to committee.

2015 Assembly Bill 224 is the new bill number. In addition to Sargent, AB224 is cosponsored by Reps. Ohnstad, Pope, Johnson, Brostoff, Zepnick, Bowen, Berceau, Kessler, Barnes, Subeck And Hesselbein, along with Senators Harris Dodd, Lena Taylor and Chris Larson.

The prior session bill, 2013 Assembly Bill 810, sponsored by Sargent included the following cosponsors Reps. Ohnstad, Berceau, Clark, Pope and Hulsey, and Senator Harris Dodd, so this year’s totals represent a significant increase in support, gaining six state representatives and two state senators.

As with last session, all cosponsors are Democrats. AB224 was introduced much earlier in the session than AB810, so it has more time to move through the process and possibly get a public hearing.

Speaker Robin Vos assigned AB224 to the Committee On Criminal Justice And Public Safety. AB 810 from last session had been assigned to the Committee on Criminal Justice, which was basically the same committee. The chair is Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and the vice-chair is Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum).

Last session’s vice-chair John Spiros (R-Marshfield) is also a member along with GOP Reps. J. Ott, Rodriguez and Horlacher. Committee Democratic members are Reps. Novak, Born, Goyke, Kessler, Zamarripa and Johnson. Spiros, with a background in law enforcement has been cool to cannabis legislation outside of last session’s bill governing cannabidiol, which he refused to concede was medical cannabis.

AB810 did not receive a hearing last session. Supporters should contact their representatives and senators and request their support on this AB224 if they are not already on the bill, and thank them if they are. Medical cannabis has long held majority public support in Wisconsin and given the changes happening in states like Colorado, Washington and other states, citizens are ready to consider legalization. As usual, state lawmakers are far behind the public.

AB224 Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau

Current law prohibits a person from manufacturing, distributing, or delivering marijuana; possessing marijuana with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or deliver it; possessing or attempting to possess marijuana; using drug paraphernalia; or possessing drug paraphernalia with the intent to produce, distribute, or use a controlled substance. This bill changes state law so that state law permits both recreational use of marijuana and medical use of marijuana.

First, with respect to recreational use of marijuana, this bill changes state law to permit a Wisconsin resident who is over the age of 21 to possess no more than one-half an ounce of marijuana and to permit a nonresident of Wisconsin who is over the age of 21 to possess no more than a quarter ounce of marijuana. Generally, a person who possesses more than the maximum amount he or she is allowed to possess, but not more than 28 grams of marijuana is subject to a civil forfeiture not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days or both. A person who possesses more than 28 grams of marijuana is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, except that, if the person takes action to hide the amount of marijuana he or she has and the person has in place a security system to alert him or her to the presence of law enforcement, a method of intimidation, or a trap that could injure or kill a person approaching the area containing the marijuana, the person is guilty of a Class I felony.

This bill prohibits the sale for recreational use of product intended for human consumption that contains marijuana or marijuana extracts and that is edible. This bill prohibits the sale of marijuana for recreational use via mail, telephone, or Internet. A person who violates either of these prohibitions is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. This bill prohibits the use of marijuana in public. A person who violates this prohibition is subject to a civil forfeiture of not more than $100. This bill also eliminates the prohibition on possessing or using drug paraphernalia that relates to marijuana consumption.

This bill also creates a process by which a person may obtain a permit to sell marijuana for recreational use and pay a tax equal to 25 percent of the sales price.

Under this bill, a person who does not have a permit to sell marijuana may not sell, distribute, or transfer marijuana, or possess marijuana with the intent to sell or distribute it. A person who violates the prohibition is guilty of a Class I felony except that the felony classification increases to a Class H felony if the person sells, distributes, or transfers the marijuana to a person who is under the age of 21 (minor) and the person is at least three years older than the minor. This bill prohibits a permittee from selling, distributing, or transferring marijuana to a minor and from permitting a minor to be on premises for which a permit is issued. If a permittee violates one of those prohibitions, the permittee may be subject to a civil forfeiture of not more than $500 and the permit may be suspended for up to 30 days. Under this bill, a minor who does any of the following is subject to a forfeiture of not less than $250 nor more than $500: procures or attempts to procure marijuana from a permittee; falsely represents his or her age to receive marijuana from a permittee; knowingly possesses marijuana for recreational use; or knowingly enters any premises for which a permit has been issued without being accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, or spouse who is at least 21 years of age.

In addition, under this bill, a person may obtain a permit for a $250 fee to cultivate no more than 12 marijuana plants at one time. A permit is valid for one year and may be renewed. A person without a permit who cultivates plants, and the number of plants is not more than 12, is subject to a civil forfeiture that is no more than twice the fee to obtain a permit. If any person cultivates more than 12 plants at one time but not more than 24, the person is subject to a civil forfeiture not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days or both. If any person cultivates more than 24 plants at one time, the person is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, except that, if the person takes action to hide the number of plants he or she has and the person has in place a security system to alert him or her to the presence of law enforcement, a method of intimidation, or a trap that could injure or kill a person approaching the area containing the plants, the person is guilty of a Class I felony.

With respect to the medical use of marijuana, this bill changes state law to permit a person registered with the Department of Health Services (DHS) to use marijuana for medical use to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a debilitating medical condition or treatment. A person’s primary caregiver also may acquire, possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for a person registered with DHS if it is not practicable for the person to acquire, possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana independently or the person is under the age of 18. The bill requires DHS to establish a registry for persons who use marijuana for medical use. Under the bill, a person may apply for a registry identification card by submitting to DHS a signed application, a written certification by the person’s physician that the person has or is undergoing a debilitating medical condition or treatment and that the potential benefits of the person’s use of tetrahydrocannabinols would likely outweigh the health risks for the person, and a registration fee of not more than $150. DHS must verify the information and issue the person a registry identification card. A registry identification card is generally valid for two years and may be renewed. DHS may not disclose that it has issued to a person a registry identification card, or information from an application for one, except to a law enforcement agency for the purpose of verifying that a person possesses a valid registry identification card. This bill also requires DHS to promulgate a rule listing other jurisdictions that allow the medical use of marijuana by a visiting person or allow a person to assist with a person’s medical use of marijuana. This bill treats documents issued by these entities the same as registry identification cards issued by DHS.

The bill requires DHS to license and regulate nonprofit corporations, known as compassion centers, that distribute or deliver marijuana or drug paraphernalia or possess or manufacture marijuana or drug paraphernalia with the intent to deliver or distribute to facilitate the medical use of marijuana. This bill prohibits compassion centers from being located within 500 feet of a school, prohibits a compassion center from distributing to a person more than 12 live marijuana plants and three ounces of usable marijuana (maximum medicinal amount), and prohibits an organization from possessing a quantity that exceeds, by an amount determined by DHS, the total maximum medicinal amount of marijuana of all of the persons it serves. An applicant for a license must pay an initial application fee of $250, and a compassion center must pay an annual fee of $5,000. This bill also requires DHS to register entities as tetrahydrocannabinols-testing laboratories. The laboratories must test marijuana for contaminants; research findings on the use of medical marijuana; and provide training on safe and efficient cultivation, harvesting, packaging, labeling, and distribution of marijuana, security and inventory accountability, and research on medical marijuana.

Finally, under current law, a person may not operate a vehicle with a detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance, which includes delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in his or her blood, regardless of impairment.

Penalties for violating this provision increase with the number of violations. Under this bill, a person may not operate a vehicle with a THC concentration of 5.0 ng/mL or more, instead of a detectable amount, in his or her blood. This bill does not change the penalty structure.

This bill changes state law regarding marijuana. It does not affect federal law, which generally prohibits persons from manufacturing, delivering, or possessing marijuana and applies to both intrastate and interstate violations.

For further information see the state and local fiscal estimate, which will be printed as an appendix to this bill.

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