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Wisconsin hemp bill reveals changing face of cannabis support in legislature

While Wisconsin may seem hopelessly mired in cannabis prohibition, the list of sponsors on new Republican-sponsored bipartisan industrial hemp legislation includes an array of GOP lawmakers cosponsoring cannabis-related legislation for the first time. Other GOP sponsors had previously only signed onto bipartisan GOP CBD oil legislation that recently passed both houses.

Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) Source: WI Legislature

AB183/SB119. is sponsored by Representatives (GOP lawmakers in italics) Kremer, Kulp, Krug, Allen, Bernier, Bowen, Brandtjen, R. Brooks, Crowley, Genrich, Jarchow, Kitchens, Kleefisch, Knodl, Kooyenga, Loudenbeck, Macco, Mursau, Nygren, Petryk, Pope, Quinn, Sargent, Schraa, Skowronski, Thiesfeldt, Tittl and Tusler;

Senator sponsors: Testin, Harsdorf, Vinehout, L. Taylor, Bewley, Craig, Feyen, C. Larson, Lasee, Moulton, Olsen and Tiffany.

Senator Patrick Testin Senate District 24 (R-Stevens Point)

AB183/SB119 sponsors range across the political spectrum from very conservative Republicans who never before signed on to cannabis related bills, like Assembly lead sponsor Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) to liberal Democrats known for their support of full legalization, like Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison).

One of the GOP senate sponsors, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), is the GOP Majority Caucus Chair. Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) has long been known for opposing medical cannabis legislation.

On the Assembly side, the list of cosponsors includes three members of the GOP leadership: Assistant Majority Leader Robert Brooks (R-Saukville), Majority Caucus Chair Daniel Knodl (R-Germantown), and Majority Caucus Vice-Chair Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake).

Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc). Official photo.

Two of the GOP Assembly cosponsors, Reps. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) and Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) have been staunch opponents of cannabis law reform, with Kleefisch regularly spewing ridiculous statements about Marinol being sufficient over medical cannabis and talking up the debunked gateway theory. Thiesfeldt introduced legislation that passed in 2014, 2013 Wisconsin Act 293, that gives local authorities the opportunity to charge pot cases declined by district attorneys.

While we still hear a lot of opposition to some cannabis bills, industrial hemp seems to be an issue that both sides of the aisle can suddenly get behind. While state lawmakers recently united to pass CBD legislation nearly unanimously, the bill only addresses possession and does not authorize production and distribution of cannabis. This bill authorizes the cultivation of hemp plants and production of oils and other products in Wisconsin.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Senate sponsor of Wisconsin CBD legislation.

The shifting views of Wisconsin Republicans toward cannabis could be seen in comments earlier this session from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and CBD bill senate sponsor Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) warming to the idea of legalizing medical cannabis, not just a single cannabinoid. Statements like these seemed unthinkable not that long ago.

Another example of changing views in the legislature is Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake). Jarchow, known for his conservative views, has drafted a statewide cannabis decriminalization bill that his office says will be introduced this session. If the GOP leadership is wiling to allow public hearings on his bill, that will be a strong sign that progress may be possible under a GOP regime that, in the past, has been very hostile to cannabis and its advocates.

Former WI Gov. Tommy Thompson speaks at a Wisconsin NORML meeting at the Tee Pee Supper Club in Tomah WI in May 2014. The Tee Pee was owned by Tommy’s late brother Ed Thompson, who died October 22, 2011. (Cannabadger.com)

In May 2010, more than 30 Wisconsin medical marijuana supporters gathered in Tomah at the late Ed Thompson’s Tee Pee Supper Club for a Wisconsin NORML meeting to figure out the next step after legislation failed to move out of committee in the then-Democratic controlled legislature. Both Ed and his brother, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, were at the Tee Pee that day. Tommy made a brief appearance at the NORML meeting during which the late longtime cannabis activist, Ben Masel asked for advice on passing medical cannabis legislation in Wisconsin.

“Pass the hemp bill first, as it already has bipartisan support, and it’s easier to vote for medical when you’ve already voted for hemp,” was Tommy Thompson’s response.

Perhaps this session will see passage of a hemp bill after so many bipartisan attempts. If so, we may see if Tommy was right.

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