Monday, June 14, 2021

Senate Democratic leader says caucus doesn't support full marijuana legalization but more than half say they do

From JSOnline:
Hope Karnopp
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON – The leader of the Senate Democrats is walking back comments she made last week declaring her caucus against legalizing marijuana as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley told a national publication that legalizing recreational marijuana was a "nonstarter" and that "the Democratic caucus is not in favor of that." 

But more than half of the Democratic caucus told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they do agree with the idea.

Joseph Hoey, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, told the Journal Sentinel that Bewley was misquoted. But The News Station's editor said Hoey asked the outlet to change Bewley's quote after its publication.

"I don't know what planet they're on," Matt Laslo, managing editor, said. 

Hoey also said Bewley doesn't speak for the caucus she leads.

Seven of the 12 members of the Democratic caucus told the Journal Sentinel they support legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, including Minority Caucus Chair Jeff Smith of Brunswick and ranking Democratic member of the Joint Finance Committee Sen. Jon Erpenbach of West Point.

Sens. Melissa Agard and Kelda Roys of Madison and Sens. LaTonya Johnson, Lena Taylor and Chris Larson of Milwaukee also support full legalization. 

"Wisconsin citizens should not have to travel across state lines to purchase marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. It should be safely and legally available here," Larson said.

Some Democrats take different views on marijuana and have previously supported legalizing medical marijuana or moving toward decriminalization. Sen. Robert Wirch of Somers and Sen. Brad Pfaff of Onalaska have supported the use of medical marijuana. 

"The devil is in the details," Agard said. "Unfortunately, it's about tangling through deep policy discussions."

Bewley's spokesman said she would need to see the details of a bill to legalize marijuana. 

"(She) realizes the terrible toll that drug addiction takes on people in this state and some people believe that there is not adequate resources to deal with the substance abuse problems we already have," Hoey said.

Republicans have rejected calls from Evers and other Democrats to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Legalizing and taxing marijuana was part of Evers' budget proposal. 

Agard said she will be reintroducing her bill to permit recreational and medical use in summer and expects more lawmakers to cosponsor the legislation. The bill had 22 co-sponsors when it was introduced in 2019, but it did not receive a public hearing.


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