Longtime anti-cannabis zealot State Sen. Leah Vukmir’s time at the Wisconsin Capitol is rapidly winding down and the longtime senate health committee chair will soon gavel to a close her final health committee hearing.
But despite serving as health committee chair in both the Assembly and Senate, Vukmir steadfastly refused to hold a hearing on medical cannabis legislation despite overwhelming support among Wisconsinites for medical pot.
Vukmir, who first entered the legislature in 2002, after winning Scott Walker’s Assembly seat after he was elected Milwaukee County Executive, is running for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin this November.
First elected to the state senate after defeating incumbent Democrat Jim Sullivan in 2010, Vukmir, can’t run for both seats at once. Regarding cannabis, Tammy Baldwin has been pretty much the complete opposite of Vukmir throughout her career, sponsoring medical cannabis legislation during her time in the Wisconsin Assembly, House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
Even before assuming chairmanship of the Assembly health committee for the 2007-2008 session after the 2006 departure of pro-medical cannabis Rep. Gregg Underheim (R-Oshkosh), Vukmir has clung to the same tired cannabigoted rhetoric, calling medical cannabis a “ruse” for legalization of cannabis for adult use.
At a Dec. 2009 public hearing for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (JRMMA), then Rep. Vukmir referred to the proceedings as “a circus,” drawing jeers from attendees. The outgoing state senator also publicly repeated her “ruse” assertion as recently as Fall 2017, at a UW-Madison Young Republican meeting per people who attended.
While many Wisconsin legislators have yet to formally file for reelection, some have and others have plans to run for higher office. Two pro-cannabis candidates for the Democratic nomination for Wisconsin governor, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) also cannot run for their current legislative seats.
Another incumbent already departed is Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), who accepted a state job from Gov. Scott Walker earlier in 2018. Lasee. who beyond voting for industrial hemp and CBD bills in the state legislature, has expressed his support for cannabis law reform by choosing to invest in a Canadian cannabis firm with holdings in a number of countries, Canopy Growth. As Cannabadger reported last year, a review of public disclosures found that Lasee bought $5,000 to $50,000 in the stock of the Ontario-based Canopy Growth Corp.
Despite statutory requirements that a special election be held to replace Lasee, Gov. Walker has decided to leave open Lasee’s former seat and that of anti-cannabis Rep. Keith Ripp (R-Lodi). Walker’s action came after a special election to replace former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) resulted in an upset with State Rep. Adam Jarchow losing badly to Democratic medical examiner Patty Schachtner in January.
Harsdorf, who opposed the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act during the bill’s 2009 hearing, was appointed by Walker as secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). DATCP is currently winding up drafting emergency rules due March 2, 2018, for the state’s new hemp industry.
Notoriously anti-cannabis state Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), has registered to run for Lasee’s open seat and will not be returning to the Assembly next session.
With six months to go before the primary in August, one thing is certain, Leah Vukmir’s days of being the leading cannabis opponent in the legislature are quickly winding down. Hopefully voters will reject her U.S. Senate candidacy and put the former pediatric nurse back in the private sector.