Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers will be delivering his very first State of the State (SOTS) Address at 7:00 pm on Tuesday January 22 in the Assembly chambers at the Capitol in Madison. I’ve been to a lot of these events over the years dating back to the Tommy Thompson years. This year, it’s expected that Evers will share details of his plans to include what he called the “first step toward legalizing medical marijuana” in his first state budget. This is historic.
The SOTS used to be an ideal location to interact with lawmakers and other state officials, before and after the event. While it is not open to the public, until the Scott Walker years, citizens could congregate outside. Each year medical cannabis patients and supporters would hold a vigil outside during the speech, then speak with state officials afterward.
Evers anticipated mention of legalizing medical cannabis is likely the first time it has been brought up in the SOTS. It’s possible cannabis has been mentioned in a past governor’s state of the state address, but if so, probably not in a good way. Former-Gov. Tommy Thompson made a career out of demonizing cannabis, even for medical use, in his 14 years in office. Although former-Gov. Jim Doyle was on record as promising to sign a medical cannabis bill if it reached his desk, a commitment he made to me at a March 2002 event before he was elected, he never brought it up in any of his eight SOTS addresses.
I was at former-Gov. Scott Walker’s first SOTS in 2011, when citizens could still gather at least close to the Assembly Chambers, and filmed a clip of him and his entourage exiting afterward. I called out to him, “Medical marijuana in your term, Gov. Walker!” He did not respond. While previous governors would approach the Assembly Chambers using the wide stairway in front, Walker slunk in and out the back way after 2011.
By the 2012 SOTS, citizens were pretty much relegated to the rotunda downstairs. The days of the SOTS as a venue to speak face to face with state lawmakers had ended. Each year Walker was governor, there were more curtained off and restricted areas, ensuring any contact with actual citizens was impossible. It will be interesting to see how it is configured this year and how Gov. Evers will enter the chamber. But most interesting will be hearing him address the issue of legalizing medical cannabis in Wisconsin for the first time from a governor delivering his SOTS address. When we were holding vigils at the SOTS 10, 15, even almost 20 years ago, we would never have considered it would have taken this long. Hopefully the “first step” the governor is planning is a big step up.