Reaction to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ cannabis proposals

On Monday, February 18, 2019, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers held a press conference in the State Capitol rotunda in Madison to announce his proposals to include medical cannabis, statewide cannabis decriminalization and other cannabis law reforms in his upcoming state budget.

Among those also in attendance and speaking were Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who have sponsored medical cannabis legislation for a number of years. That legislation will be folded into the budget. b

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee), who leads the Legislature’s Black Caucus, said at the press conference that Evers’ proposal would benefit all Wisconsinites but especially people of color. Crowley said 40 percent of black men arrested in Milwaukee County are arrested for “low-level” drug offenses. “Harsh drug laws do not do much to deter marijuana use. All they succeed in doing is disproportionately locking up Wisconsinites of color.”

Iraq War veteran Steven Acheson also spoke at the press conference, saying that medical cannabis had been an “off-ramp” for him from the medications he was prescribed for pain and PTSD.

The State Journal also reported that Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), a cancer survivor, says she’s part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafting a medical marijuana bill to be introduced in coming months. The other lawmakers involved are Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point); Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison); and Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

Below you can find statements from Gov. Evers, Sen Erpenbach and  Rep. Taylor regarding the governor’s proposals along with reactions to the announcement from state lawmakers, Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer, and two organizations. Links to their full statements are included, when available.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

Governor Tony Evers issued this statement:

Governor Tony Evers today announced that his budget will include proposals to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, establish an expungement procedure for individuals who have completed their sentence or probation for possession, and align Wisconsin’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards.

The governor believes it is time for Wisconsin to join more than 30 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana. Last year, nearly one million voters in 16 counties and two cities in Wisconsin voted to approve non-binding referenda asking if marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. These referenda all passed by significant majorities.

Under the governor’s proposal, a physician, or a practitioner under the direction of a physician, can recommend the use of medical marijuana to alleviate symptoms related to medical conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, severe nausea, and seizures.

The governor will also align Wisconsin’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards. CBD oil is made from marijuana and can be used to treat seizures in children. Currently, Wisconsin law requires families to possess CBD oil only with yearly certification by a physician. The governor believes that families and individuals should be able to obtain this treatment without additional barriers.

“As a cancer survivor, I know the side effects of a major illness can make everyday tasks a challenge. People shouldn’t be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately-needed medication that can alleviate their suffering,” Gov. Evers said. “Wisconsinites overwhelmingly agree that this is a critically important issue. But it’s not just about access to health care, it’s about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity.”

Reforming Wisconsin’s marijuana laws to align with the people’s support for medical marijuana is an important part of the governor’s plan. But so, too, is addressing the social and racial justice aspect of marijuana use. Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for Black men, and drug-related crimes account for as many as 75-85 percent of all inmates in our prisons.

That is why the governor will also decriminalize possession, manufacturing or distribution of marijuana for amounts of 25 grams or less. This language would also prevent localities from establishing their own ordinances or penalties for possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana. The governor’s plan will also establish an expungement procedure for individuals convicted of possessing, manufacturing or distributing less than 25 grams of marijuana who have completed their sentence or probation.

“Too many people, often persons of color, spend time in our criminal justice system just for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That doesn’t make our communities stronger or safer,” Evers said. “This shouldn’t be a Republican issue or Democratic issue, and I look forward to working on both sides of the aisle to pass this proposal in my budget.”

Democratic Lawmakers:

Senator Jon Erpenbach Senate District 27 (Wisconsin Legislature)

Senator Jon Erpenbach statement:

“Since 2009, I have been the author of legislation to legalize marijuana for medical use. In that time I have heard heartbreaking stories from people across the state who are using marijuana to alleviate serious medical conditions; People breaking the law to get their loved ones a medicine that works.

“Legislators have long been behind the public on this issue. Recent polling showed that 59% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of all marijuana, but broken down into medical use the numbers are even higher.

“In addition, thirty States and Washington, D.C., both red and blue, have passed effective medical marijuana programs, and no state has ever sought to repeal it. It is time for Wisconsin to join them in passing these regulations.

“The bottom line is that seriously ill patients should not have to break the law to access their medication. Marijuana can provide relief to those suffering from cancer, glaucoma, PTSD, ALS, chronic pain and can even help in the fight against opiate addiction. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014 found that opioid overdose deaths were reduced by 25% in states with an effective medical marijuana law. This is a common-sense solution to a crisis that impacts both urban and rural areas of our state.

“There are a multitude of reasons why we should legalize medical marijuana, and an ever growing list of organizations and individuals that support decriminalization for medical use. This proposal will help individuals seeking to alleviate chronic pain in a safe and legal way, and I applaud Governor Evers for listening to the people of Wisconsin.”

Representative Chris Taylor Assembly District 76 (Wisconsin Legislature)

Representative Chris Taylor statement:

“I am so proud to stand with Governor Evers today to make this critical announcement. In my many years of advocacy on this issue, I have heard moving stories from patients and loved ones across the state about the need for access to marijuana treatment to alleviate suffering for those struggling with debilitating illnesses.”

“Many Wisconsin lawmakers are way behind the public and country on this critical issue. Last fall, there were 18 different referenda ballot measures around the state on marijuana, and every single one passed by healthy margins. It is long past time for Wisconsin to join the 33 other states that have legalized comprehensive, compassionate medical marijuana treatment.

“I firmly believe that nobody should be treated as a criminal for accessing the medicine they or their loved ones need. This is a long overdue compassionate law that will finally allow sick patients to access the medicine they need.”

Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) is a sponsor of cannabis legalization legislation. (Source: Cannabadger.com)

Rep. Melissa Sargent issued this statement:

“Today, it was reported that Governor Tony Evers will take the first steps towards the legalization of marijuana in Wisconsin in his 2019–]2020 Budget by calling for its decriminalization and legalization for medicinal use, expungement for certain possession amounts, and allowing for the use of CBD oil without a doctorfs certificate. I applaud the Governor for hearing the people of our state, and working to bring Wisconsin up to speed with our Midwestern counterparts and states all around the nation. The legalization of medicinal marijuana is mainstream, with 33 states allowing for medicinal use, and hundreds of thousands of people with medical needs finding relief. Many states, including neighboring Minnesota and Illinois, are moving towards legalizing recreational marijuana, and other neighbors like Michigan have already done so. The question is not if we will fully legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, but when.

Here in Wisconsin, nearly two out of three Wisconsinites believe that all marijuana sales should be taxed and regulated like alcohol sales, and that number grows stronger every year. With this increased support for full legalization, it is clear that Wisconsinites are ready for truly pragmatic and common sense action. While Wisconsin must act in order to provide real relief for our friends and neighbors, we must also continue to push forward to ensure that there is a path towards fully legalizing marijuana in our state. Too many lives and communities have been damaged by out of date and backwards cannabis policies. we can take important steps in rectifying these damages by creating a pathway towards full legalization. The simple truth is, the most dangerous thing about marijuana right now in our state is that it is illegal.

It is refreshing to see Wisconsin taking important first steps in regards to marijuana legalization, and bringing a change that the people of Wisconsin have been calling for. It is past time that the legislature come to terms with the changing tides, hear the voices of our constituents, and be proactive in finding real solutions that create opportunity and remove barriers when it comes to marijuana, rather than continue to suffer the ill consequences of prohibition.

I look forward to continuing my efforts, in conjunction with the various stakeholders and individuals across our state, to bring the full legalization of marijuana to Wisconsin, and will work tirelessly to legalize opportunity in our state.h

Senator Jennifer Shilling Minority Leader Senate District 32 (Wisconsin Legislature)

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling issued this statement:

“Most people view medical marijuana as an issue of providing comprehensive health care to those with serious illnesses,” said Shilling. “Medical research, scientific studies, and personal experiences clearly support the use of medical marijuana. I think it’s time for Wisconsin to join the majority of states that have already legalized medical marijuana to help treat patients with unbearable and debilitating pain.”

“Opioids kill over 130 Americans every day,” added Shilling. “If we want to get serious about saving lives, everything should be on the table – especially since studies indicate that medical marijuana can be a more effective and less addictive treatment for pain. For cancer patients, glaucoma sufferers and other ailing citizens, medical marijuana is one potential tool health professionals can use to treat serious medical conditions and ease their suffering.”

Representative David Bowen Assembly District 10. (Wisconsin Legislature)

Statement from Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee):

“I applaud Governor Evers for going further than any Wisconsin Governor in history to finally allow access to THC. Not only are these reforms popular with a wide cross section of Wisconsinites, but they will save taxpayer money and address the racial disparities in our criminal justice system that current drug laws perpetuate. For far too long, people of color have been incarcerated for the mere possession of marijuana which has torn families apart and made our communities less safe.”

“People should not be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately needed natural medication, and this proposal would allow Wisconsinites to use and possess up to 25 grams of marijuana without fear of incarceration and losing their livelihood. While these reforms are long overdue, I look forward to having further conversations with my colleagues to fully legalize the production, possession and use of marijuana benefiting tax payers and continue the effort to put an end to the practice of THC testing for employment.”

Representative JoCasta Zamarripa Assembly District 8 (Wisconsin Legislature)

Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:

“I’m so thankful to the governor and my fellow legislators who have put forward commonsense proposals that will change lives. Currently, opioid addiction and overdose are hurting individuals and families across the state. Having accessible, legal medicinal marijuana will help many in pain without the harmful effects of addictive narcotics. “Not only that, but people of color are currently having their lives upended by arrests and convictions for low-level drug use. Even though white people are just as likely to use marijuana, people of color are far more likely to get convicted and imprisoned. This is the first step in addressing the cruel and persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system.”

Representative Greta Neubauer Assembly District 66 (Wisconsin Legislature)

Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) issued this statement:

“Last fall, Racinians spoke loud and clear on medical marijuana legalization. An overwhelming 87 percent of voters in the City of Racine voiced their support for medical marijuana, and a further 66 percent of Racinians voted in favor of decriminalizing recreational marijuana in Wisconsin. I am pleased to see that Governor Evers is following the people’s lead in this proposal, opening new possibilities for medical treatment and fighting opioids in the Badger State.”

“Decriminalizing marijuana is also a matter of justice and equity in Wisconsin. As much as 85% of our prison population is incarcerated due to low level drug offenses, and once they have served their time, many of these men and women struggle to move forward with their lives.” Wisconsin incarcerates a disproportionate number of people of color, and this has to change. Gov. Evers’ expungement proposal, allowing people who have successfully served their time and their probation for low level marijuana crimes to clear their records and move on with their lives.”

Representative Christine Sinicki Minority Caucus Sergeant At Arms Assembly District 20 (D – Milwaukee) (Wisconsin Legislature)

Statement from Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee):

“Wisconsinites across the political spectrum agree – it is just absurd that, under current law, sick individuals and their families are treated like criminals for using medical marijuana. Governor Evers is right: it’s time Wisconsin joined 33 other states to legalize medicinal marijuana prescribed by a doctor. It’s time to stop forcing people who are sick and in pain to hide in the shadows when they seek this form of relief.”

“Our current system of marijuana prohibition is costly, ineffective, and exacerbates racial and socioeconomic inequalities. It is long past time for policymakers to listen to the will of the people and make this change. I appreciate Governor Evers’ leadership on this issue and look forward to working with him to responsibly reform our outdated marijuana laws.”

Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) issued the following statement:

Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) (Wisconsin Legislature)

Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) statement

Republican Lawmakers:

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (Cannabadger.com)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos issued this statement:

“Without having specific details, his proposal appears to go too far. It makes it easier to get recreational marijuana and provides a pathway to full legalization, which I do not support. I’m open to medical marijuana when it’s prescribed by a doctor but it has to be done in a targeted way without allowing recreational use.”

Statemement issued by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Monday, February 18, 2019 in response to Gov. Tony Evers proposals to legalize medical cannabis and enact statewide cannabis decriminalization for up to 25 grams of pot.

MORE: Timeline: Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Marijuana

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) told Green Bay’s Fox 11 that it’s more about the language Evers’ introduces in the proposals and how that plays out:

“Medical marijuana is something I think there’s some support for amongst individuals but, the devil’s in the details on how that works out. The proposal is still pretty fresh. We haven’t seen any language exactly how we would accomplish that, so we’ll probably have more comment later in the week as we get a chance to digest what he’s proposing.”

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) (Wisconsin Legislature)

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Health, issued this statement:

“Governor Evers’s plan for decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana is both irresponsible and uninformed. This is a case of the Governor advancing his own agenda despite a large body of scientific research demonstrating real dangers associated with marijuana use. Contrary to the growing narrative that marijuana is harmless, the scientific and medical communities have raised genuine concerns about the risks that marijuana consumption poses to health and public safety.”

WFRV/WeAreGreenBay.com reported Senator André Jacque (R – DePere) said of Evers’ proposal:  “I’ve certainly talked to law enforcement that has concerns about the increased drugged driving rates or the increased youth-onset in use. But as far as the proposal, I’ll take a look at whatever is put in front of us.”

Law Enforcement:

Eau Claire’s WQOW reported Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said he’s not against medical marijuana if it’s properly regulated.

“We recognize that there are probably some good possibilities with autism and some of the other medical issues, but that should be separate, regulated by the medical community itself,” Cramer said. “Law enforcement will have to do some more training with our law enforcement officers.”

Organizations in Favor:

Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals statement:

“Governor Evers is doing the right thing for Wisconsinites by moving forward to legalize medical marijuana.

Families in Wisconsin deserve the right to legally access medical marijuana to alleviate a wide variety of symptoms related to medical conditions, such as cancer, glaucoma, and seizures. Patients that need medication should not be treated as criminals.

Access to medical marijuana is an especially important tool in our state’s battle to fight the opioid epidemic, which has needlessly destroyed the lives of too many.

Medical marijuana has also been shown to be helpful for disorders uniquely impacting veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain, which is why legalization of medical marijuana is supported by the American Legion.

In addition, WFNHP praises Governor Evers’ proposal to decriminalize possession, manufacturing or distribution of marijuana in certain circumstances. Wisconsin continues to have the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men and drug-related crime. The Governor’s plan will be a significant step forward to address the social and racial aspects of marijuana use.

Governor Evers’ proposal to legalize medical marijuana is supported by an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites including Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike. It is time for our state to join the nearly 30 other states that have legalized medical marijuana. It is a health care policy whose time has come.” — Candice Owley, President

Organizations Against:

Wisconsin Manufacturer’s and Commerce (WMC) statement:

“There is not enough research on this issue to determine if marijuana can be used safely, and there is plenty of research that shows it impairs an individual’s ability to operate equipment safely,” said. “Wisconsin business leaders care about their employees’ safety, and decriminalization of marijuana could substantially increase the risk of harm for those employed in the manufacturing, construction, agriculture and other business sectors.”

“The safety of our workers in this state should be of utmost concern for the governor and legislators, and decriminalizing marijuana will make it harder for employers to keep their workplaces safe.” — Kurt Bauer, WMC president & CEO

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