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Wisconsin Governor Pledges to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Wisconsin Governor Backs Medical Marijuana
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers / PHOTO The White House


Wisconsin Governor Pledges to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Tony Evers announced his intentions to legalize medical marijuana as a part of an upcoming budget proposal — but can he actually pull it off?

On the same day Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers narrowly defeated his predecessor — union-busting, ham-sandwich eating Republican Scott Walker, who was oh so briefly considered president material — Wisconsin voters sent a louder and far more bipartisan message: Whomever becomes governor should really, really legalize cannabis.

On Election Day 2018, nearly one million voters answered “yes” to nonbinding referendums that asked if marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational purposes, as the Wisconsin State Journal observed. Republican or Democrat, in big cities and in Republican counties, voters overwhelmingly passed the referendums.

More than 81 percent of voters said medical cannabis should be legal, and on the question of recreational marijuana, the margin of victory for legalization was nearly two-to-one.

But unlike nearly every other state where adults can now visit a licensed dispensary or possess marijuana without fear of receiving a ticket or a court summons, Wisconsin has no ballot-initiative process, meaning it’s all up to the elected representatives.

And to his credit, Evers appears willing to listen to what the voters, both his and Walker’s, are saying. Evers plans to include a proposal to legalize medical marijuana when he releases his budget proposal later this month, Wisconsin Public Radio reported on Monday.

Evers Promises Progress

“I believe and I know the people of Wisconsin overwhelmingly believe that people shouldn’t be treated like criminals for accessing medicine that can change or maybe even save their lives,” Evers said at a press conference, according to WPR. Per WPR’s description of Evers’s plan, which would need approval from state lawmakers, individuals with authorization from a physician would be “able to use marijuana to treat medical conditions.”

Exactly which conditions, or from where they’d obtain the marijuana (from a state-licensed dispensary, from a caregiver, from Weedmaps?) wasn’t made clear.

So there’s obviously quite a lot that needs to happen before Wisconsin residents can access cannabis. But as Oklahoma recently demonstrated, even a red state can move from total prohibition to some semblance of a workable medical marijuana program.

Evers’s move also follows a pattern set by governors in other states that do not have the voter-initiative process, including New York and New Jersey.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has floated legalization as a way to raise enough tax revenue for such necessary improvements as an overhaul of the New York City subway. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy promised to legalize marijuana while on the campaign trail, though he’s yet to quite agree on a timeline or a plan with leaders in the Legislature. However, very significantly, Evers’s proposal has both criminal-justice reform and racial equity addressed as well.

If Evers’s plan is approved, arrests for anyone possessing less than 25 grams of cannabis in Wisconsin would end immediately. There would also be procedures to expunge old criminal records for marijuana “crimes” involving that amount or less.

Evers’s plan would also allow anyone to possess or buy CBD oil without a prescription. Since CBD oil can be derived from hemp, which is now legal in all 50 states, that’s reasonable but not guaranteed, even after President Donald Trump signed the Farm Bill into law.

Though some state interest groups like a top business organization came out against the plan, arguing (without basis) that legalization would make workplaces less safe, there’s reason to think it will pass. Even Republican leaders like state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are paying attention to Evers’s marijuana plan, which is smart— because like Evers himself, marijuana is more popular among voters than they are.

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