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GOP lawmaker: ‘there’s a path forward’ to medical marijuana

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MADISON (WKOW) -- One day after Republican lawmakers removed a proposal to legalize marijuana out of the state budget, one of those same legislators said he believes legalized medicinal marijuana in Wisconsin is a very real possibility.

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Rep. Tony Kurtz (R-Wonewoc) said in an interview Friday he is open to a standalone bill that would legalize use of the drug with a doctor's prescription.

"I think there's a path forward for some type of medical marijuana. I truly believe that," Kurtz said. "I know then-Representative Felzkowski, now Senator Felzkowski, I know that's something her personally is advocating for."

Both Kurtz and Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) serve on the powerful Joint Finance Committee, which is in the process of now rewriting the state budget after taking out nearly 400 items Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had proposed.

A Marquette Law School poll found 83 percent of its respondents supported legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. 59 percent were in favor of full legalization.

Kurtz said he would not support recreational marijuana legalization, citing a family member's case of addiction.

"Legalization of marijuana for recreational use, I'm not for that and I have my personal reasons for that," he said. "I have some personal issues of a family member that has drug issues and I, personally, think it started with marijuana."

Evers included both recreational and medicinal marijuana legalization in his budget proposal, with his administration estimating recreational purchases would generate $165 million in tax revenue.

However, other GOP leaders, including Senate President Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) have dismissed the possibility, saying they believe it presents too much of a public health risk.

Rebuilding the budget

Both Kurtz and Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said Friday they were confident a number of items removed by Joint Finance on Thursday would eventually go back into the budget.

Democrats are miffed those pieces did not stay in the budget to begin with while Republicans said it was important to start from a clean baseline of the current budget before adding items from one agency at a time.

Kurtz said items like Disproportionate Share for Hospital payments, which help cover the costs of treatment for the poor, will eventually go back in the budget and there was never any doubt of that among those in the industry.

"All my hospitals, they're not calling me right now saying 'oh my goodness, what did you just do?' because they know we're gonna put that back in," Kurtz said.

Goyke said he was optimistic language regarding prescription drug costs would go back into the budget. Both he and Kurtz singled out water quality and PFAS issues as another subject that would either appear in the final budget or have enough bipartisan support to pass as standalone legislation.

Goyke also noted he was working with JFC co-chair Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) on a juvenile justice reform package that would include addressing Wisconsin's current practice of charging 17-year-olds as adults.

"For me, personally, I think there is an enormous amount of opportunity to work together on a bipartisan fashion to reform our juvenile justice system and our adult criminal justice and prison system," Goyke said.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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