Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Assembly GOP proposes medical marijuana bill that would create state-run dispensaries

From JSOnline:

Hope Karnopp
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is flanked by other Republican members announcing a medical marijuana bill on Jan. 8, 2024, in South Milwaukee.

SOUTH MILWAUKEE – Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Monday announced a bill creating a medical marijuana program and state-run dispensaries in Wisconsin, marking the first time an effort to legalize cannabis has been pushed by at least one leader of the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

But it doesn't appear to have the backing of key members of the Senate yet, including the leader of Republicans in that chamber and the senator that has introduced a less restrictive medical marijuana bill in the past.

Wisconsin is one of 12 states where recreational or medical marijuana is not available. Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers have for years called for the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medical use but have been blocked so far by GOP legislative leaders.

Now, Republican lawmakers — at least on the Assembly side — are growing warmer to the idea of allowing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, but the bill released Monday would not allow users to smoke cannabis, nor would it pave the way for private dispensaries in Wisconsin.

"The people of Wisconsin have said they want us to try to find solutions for the problems that vex our society," Vos said. "There are very few Republicans that I know, and I would say most employers and even an awful lot of citizens, that do not want to see this become an end-around to get us toward recreational marijuana."

In a statement, Evers' spokeswoman Britt Cudaback did not say whether Evers would sign the bill released Monday. He told reporters last week that he would approve a restrictive medical marijuana bill, unless Republicans include a "poison pill" like cuts to taxes or diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that he opposes.

"The governor will be reviewing Assembly Republicans’ proposal, and he looks forward to hearing from Wisconsinites and other stakeholders as the bill moves through the legislative process," Cudaback said.

Vos said the bill has the support of at least 50 Republicans in the Assembly, which would be enough to pass the proposal without Democratic votes. Vos said there would be hearings in the next few weeks and the Assembly would pass it before it adjourns in February.

"We wanted to focus on putting a program together that would get the votes in the Assembly to show that we actually were serious about getting this done," Vos said.

Democrats have previously accused Republicans of promoting their medical marijuana bill during an election year, despite knowing it doesn't have the votes to become law.

Sen. Melissa Agard of Madison, who has been a key Democratic supporter of full legalization, said "putting forward an overly restrictive medical cannabis bill does not move our state in the right direction."

"It is disappointing to see that yet again, Wisconsin’s Republican Legislators are acting as health professionals when they are not. I firmly believe we must trust doctors, patients, and caretakers to make these personal, medical decisions," Agard said in a statement.

Using marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's approval is a popular idea among Wisconsin voters — 83% supported it in 2019, the only time the Marquette University Law School poll asked the question.

Senate Republicans have not supported legalization in the past

GOP leaders have previously said support was building in their caucuses for the idea, but previous iterations of the bill haven't gotten far in the Legislature, beyond getting a public hearing in 2022.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, did not say whether he supported the Assembly GOP's plan, but said "specific details of the proposal are important and need to be thoroughly vetted before the Senate decides how to proceed."

"The Assembly’s medical marijuana proposal will move through the normal legislative process, including committee action, before being considered by the full Senate," LeMahieu said.

Several Senate Republicans have not supported legalizing marijuana in the past. Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, told reporters at a separate press conference at the state Capitol that he hopes to get them on board this time but did not name another Senate Republican aside from Sen. Mary Felzkowski of Irma.

"We've had conversations with the Senate. I know that Mary Felzkowski had the last two sessions a bill. So I'm hopeful that we can get something done but with both houses," Plumer said.

But Felzkowski, who has led the bill in the past, said in a statement that she saw the bill for the first time on Monday and had been consulted about the proposal "at a ten-thousand foot view."

"While some concepts in the bill sound incredibly well thought out, my concerns with several provisions, most notably the choice to require the state to directly dispense medical marijuana, instead of going the route of a proven, private-sector model of delivering this care, led to my decision to remain un-involved in this particular legislation," Felzkowski said.

State would run dispensaries, provide smokeless options

Republicans had already indicated their proposal would be more restrictive than the 38 states that currently allow medical use.

The plan calls for five dispensaries managed by the state Department of Health Services in each Medicaid region, which Republicans said would mark the first time a state has run dispensaries.

When asked why Republicans supported government-run businesses in this scenario, Vos said marijuana is still illegal under federal law. 

"We want to guarantee that law enforcement knows that it's well-controlled and well-documented," Vos said. 

Felzkowski said she believed that "private entities, run by those with expertise in this area of medicine, are more efficient and more effective than any government agency."

Participants would get their doctor's confirmation of their medical condition, pay a $100 registration fee per year and visit a pharmacist at the dispensary to get the prescription.

Unlike previous versions of the bill, Vos said most forms of cannabis would be allowed, including concentrates, oils, tinctures, edibles, pills, topical creams and vapors, among others. Participants would not be able to smoke marijuana.

The bill lays out nine medical conditions that would qualify for the program, including cancer, glaucoma, severe chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and terminal illness with life expectancy of less than a year. Vos said additional conditions could be added through legislation, but authors looked at other states to create a list.

Minnesota's medical marijuana program, for example, includes about 20 medical conditions, including obstructive sleep apnea, obsessive-compulsive disorder, HIV/AIDS and autism spectrum disorder. Patients ages 21 and older can use dried flower, which is consumed by smoking.

About 40,000 people participate in Minnesota's program, which Vos said lawmakers used as an estimate of how many would participate in Wisconsin. If the bill passed both chambers and was signed by Evers, the program could be implemented this year.

Molly Beck of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this story.

From: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2024/01/08/gop-medical-marijuana-bill-would-create-state-run-dispensaries/72125411007/

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