MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The push to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin grew Wednesday with the unveiling of a bill introduced for the first time by a pair of Republican lawmakers.
The newfound Republican support comes for an idea that Democrats have tried in vain for years to get passed in the GOP-controlled Legislature. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers proposed legalizing medical marijuana earlier this year, but Republicans rejected it. Similar Democratic proposals, as well as efforts to legalize recreational pot and decriminalize possession, have gone nowhere over the past decade.
The latest measure, introduced by Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) also faces long odds. But Felzkowski and Bernier said the public's support for the idea shown through polls and non-binding votes of support in communities across the state show the time is right to start the conversation. They hope to have a hearing on the bill next month.
“Each one of us knows someone that has suffered through an illness," said Felzkowski, a cancer survivor. "Medical marijuana is just another tool in the toolbox to help our suffering loved ones make it through the day with some semblance of normalcy.”
Bernier said given that 33 other states have already legalized medical marijuana, “we can and must find a way to make this work in Wisconsin.”
Public support for legalizing medical marijuana appears to be high. A Marquette University Law School poll in April showed 83% of respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana and 59% backed full legalization.
Senate Republicans have proven to be the biggest roadblock to the idea in Wisconsin. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who is running for Congress, said in September that legalizing medical marijuana will not pass the Senate because “everyone knows that medical marijuana leads to legalized marijuana.”
But the introduction of a bill by Republicans signals a further weakening of traditional GOP opposition to the idea in Wisconsin. Neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are among the 33 states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and 11 states, including Michigan and Illinois, have legalized it for recreational purposes.
The latest bill would allow doctors to prescribe certain forms of marijuana under limited circumstances. Marijuana that is smoked could not be prescribed. It would be permitted in the form of liquid, oil, pill, in a highly concentrated form known as tincture or as a topical application. Patients would need a prescription and they would obtain the marijuana from a licensed dispensary.
In October, three dozen Democrats and just one Republican introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana. While Evers supported it, the bill has gone nowhere in the Legislature.