The Republican leadership of the Wisconsin Statehouse has put a full stop Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s planned major overhaul of the state’s marijuana law.
On Thursday, the co-chairs of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Financial Committee Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren spoke at a luncheon hosted by WisPolitics.com where they quickly snuffed out any hopes of major marijuana policy reform this year.
The conversation started around the general expectations for the budget. Twenty minutes into the panel, after talking about big-ticket items for Wisconsin like Medicaid expansion and K-12 education, the conversation moved on to criminal justice. That was when the Republican leaders began talking about the marijuana reforms that currently placed in the state’s budget.
“Governor Evers ran on reducing the prison population by 50%, I think he made the claim decriminalizing marijuana was enough to do that. It’s not, it’s not even close,” Rep. Nygren told the luncheon. “There is an opportunity for us to find common ground, but it’s not necessarily decriminalizing marijuana or things like that.”
When asked if marijuana decriminalization belonged in the budget, the two representatives responded that they would be cutting it out of the final version.
“It will not be in the budget,” Nygren said.
When pushed about whether there would be revenue implications on the budget for the continued policing of cannabis, Nygren responded again, “It will not be in the final budget passed.”
Darling elaborated: “If you look at the research on marijuana, decriminalization is one issue. But he [Gov. Evers] is talking about the manufacturing being made legal, and distribution made legal. When you read what he actually has in his budget, it’s really off-the-wall scary.”
But Darling’s interpretation of “off-the-wall scary” has been embraced by the states with the most well-conceived marijuana programs. With no state-to-state cannabis commerce legal under the federal government yet, if medical cannabis were to be legalized in Wisconsin, it must be produced in-state. Furthermore, the distribution system is where many of the checks and balances protecting consumers happen, from lab testing to bulk product being moved to child-resistant packaging.
“Just because it’s fiscal doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to be in the budget,” Nygren said. “So, I’m thinking that’s the substance, in my opinion, no pun intended. It needs a much larger conversation than being stuck into a 2000 page document that a legislature can take a pass and be like ‘I voted for it for all this other stuff.’ I believe if it’s going to happen, I think there are some people that could get there on medical marijuana — if it were a true prescription actually prescribed by a doctor.”
Nygren closed by reemphasizing there are things that could get Republicans to support medical marijuana, just not stuffed in a budget proposal.
“What’s really scary is that there are still high-level officials so committed to depriving sick and dying people of access to medical cannabis.” – Mason Tvert
We asked the Marijuana Policy Project for their take on Darling and Nygren’s statements on marijuana reform in Wisconsin. In regards to Darling’s “off-the-wall scary comment” spokesman Mason Tvert, who led Colorado’s successful effort to legalize marijuana for years, said: “What’s really scary is that there are still high-level officials so committed to depriving sick and dying people of access to medical cannabis. Marijuana is not only less harmful than many prescription drugs, but also alcohol, a substance these state legislators appear to openly embrace.”
Tvert provided Cannabis Now with evidence that both Nygren and Darling take money from the beer, wine and liquor industry. “They should explain why they’re happy to accept campaign contributions from the alcohol industry, but believe adults should face criminal penalties if they make the safer choice to use marijuana instead,” he said.
NORML said it’s clear that the people of Wisconsin overwhelmingly support marijuana law reform, as 16 counties in the state voted in favor of non-binding marijuana-related referendums in the state just last year.
“It’s time for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to work together in a bipartisan manner and take action on this important issue,” said NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf. “By failing to include Governor Evers’ reform language in the budget proposal, Republican leaders are continuing to perpetuate the arrests of black and brown Wisconsinites at disproportionate rates, and both parties need to take action so that cannabis consumers of all backgrounds are no longer treated like criminals in Wisconsin.”
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