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Wisconsin Legislators Propose Dueling Bills Related to Marijuana

Brett Levin flickr

Marijuana is a hot topic again in the Wisconsin Legislature. A couple Republican state Senators said Thursday they’ll introduce a bill to legalize possession of CBD oil, a marijuana extract used to treat seizures. At the same time, some Democrats want to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Only one proposal seems likely to move forward.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn’t mince words when he held his first news conference of the new session this week. He brought up a bill the Assembly passed last year with bipartisan support, a bill that would legalize CBD oil for treatment of seizures. But the measure died in the Senate.

“We have been stymied in some of our efforts in the state Senate, in getting something as simple as CBD oil which has been passed in GOP states across the country. Let’s figure out CBD oil, let’s get that done to show that it’s not going to change the world except for those families who really need it,” Vos says.

Then Vos may have raised more eyebrows when he gave tentative support to legalizing marijuana for general medical purposes.

“I certainly have no problem with saying if you have a sincere medical need and your doctor prescribes it and it’s done under the normal process of any other opiate, I would be open to that,” Vos says.

Yet, Vos stopped short of promising that Republicans would introduce a bill this session to legalize medical marijuana.

Another person working on marijuana legislation is Democratic state Rep. Melissa Sargent of Madison. She introduced a bill in 2015 that would legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, but it didn’t go anywhere. Sargent says legalization would generate much needed revenue for Wisconsin.

“Estimation of sales tax would be upwards of $170 million over a two year period. So, at a time when we are wondering how we’re going to fund our roads, fund our schools and take care of our aging friends and neighbors, $170 million is no small number,” Sargent says.

Records show marijuana sales generated $1 billion for Colorado in 2015, after that state legalized the drug. Sargent says she’s spoken with some Republicans about her bill, and they’ve told her they’re open to the idea. She hopes it at least gets a public hearing. Republican state Sen. Van Wanggaard doesn’t think it will.

“For us to do something that allows recreational marijuana, I don’t think you are going to see that in my lifetime in the Senate because it is counterproductive. We’ve got opiate issues and we’ve got heroin issues in our state right now and I believe from my law enforcement background, that marijuana is a gateway drug,” Wanggaard says.

Wanggaard says he could see Wisconsin legalizing marijuana for medical purposes somewhere down the line – but not for a few more years. Yet the senator is vowing to bring a bill to the Senate floor that would allow the sale of CBD oil for treating seizures.

“This has none of the attributes that marijuana has for being psychotropic. CBD oil is a derivative but it doesn’t have that psychotropic effect,” Wanggaard says.

Wanggaard says, last session, some senators feared that allowing CBD oil would open the door to legalizing marijuana. He says he’ll introduce a plan next week that more clearly defines CBD, and he’s confident the Senate will have the votes this time around to pass the measure.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.