Wisconsin GOP Senators Defeat Marijuana Legalization Amendment Led By Top Democrat

June 29, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

The Wisconsin Senate has rejected two amendments to a budget bill that would have legalized marijuana—putting lawmakers on record about the popular voter-supported policy.

After Republican senators stripped cannabis provisions from the governor’s budget in committee last month, Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D) gave the full chamber a chance to enact the reform, with one omnibus amendment that would have restored several administrative priorities including marijuana legalization and another clean measure focused exclusively on legalizing cannabis.

The standalone marijuana reform amendment failed on the floor in a party-line vote of 22-11 on Wednesday.

“We know that Wisconsin is continuing to be more and more of an island to prohibition in the Midwest,” Agard told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We are falling behind in Wisconsin. We are more dangerous because of the prohibition of cannabis.”

“We’re taking up the state budget today,” she added, and the state is experiencing a “real revenue loss by the fact that we continue to not legalize cannabis.”

Prohibition “continues to be very harmful to our state. It creates less safety. We are infringing on people’s personal liberties and freedoms—because cannabis consumption is not harmful to the greater community  when regulated appropriately—and we’re missing out on a lot of prosperity [and] opportunity, for our main streets and our communities to be able to get ahead. So this is the policy that absolutely does belong in our state budget.”

Notably, no Republicans spoke against the amendment on the floor prior to voting against it.

The result in the GOP-controlled legislature isn’t entirely unexpected, but it does represent the first time that voters will be able to get a clear sense of where all their senators stand on the issue.

Agard, who also spoke with Marijuana Moment last month about the challenges of advancing cannabis reform amid GOP opposition, said that it’s “so important that people reach out to their elected officials and share with them why a ‘no’ vote when it comes to cannabis policy in Wisconsin is harmful and how that impacts them personally.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers (D) signed a large-scale bill last week bill contains a controversial provision blocking the ability of local governments to put non-binding advisory questions on the ballot—a policy that’s been used over the years to demonstrate widespread public support for marijuana legalization.

While the legislation is principally focused on revenue sharing and increasing funding for localities, the elimination of the advisory questions could threaten the democratic process that’s empowered voters across the state to tell their lawmakers where they stand on cannabis legalization.

During last year’s election alone, voters in three counties and five municipalities approved referenda voicing support for cannabis legalization, which is a reform that’s also backed by the governor but has consistently stalled under GOP leadership in Madison.

Separately, the Republican speaker of the Assembly said this month that his caucus plans to introduce a medical marijuana bill as early as this summer. But he emphasized that it will be unlike any existing medical cannabis law in the country, strongly signaling that it will be significantly restrictive.

Democratic lawmakers have been skeptical about the reported efforts by GOP colleagues to advance medical cannabis reform in the state. Evers and Agard have been among those who’ve been pushing for comprehensive legalization, but so far cannabis issues have failed to advance in the conservative legislature.

The governor said in January that he does believe Republicans will introduce medical cannabis legislation this session, and he committed to signing it into law, so long as it’s not “flawed” with too many limitations.

The governor and the GOP majority have had a strained relationship on this issue. Leadership has criticized Evers for putting adult-use legalization in recent budget requests, with the Assembly speaker warning this year that including the broad reform could jeopardize talks on more modest medical marijuana legislation.

He did it anyways—and, at a joint committee hearing last month, Republicans responded in kind, stripping both recreational and medical cannabis language from the budget proposal, along with hundreds of other policy items.

At the Senate minority leader’s request, the state’s non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) carried out a study that was released in March showing that Wisconsin residents purchased more than $121 million worth of marijuana from Illinois retailers in 2022, contributing about $36 million in tax revenue to the state.

A separate report published by Wisconsin Policy Forum in February found that 50 percent of adults 21 and older in the state live within 75 minutes of an out-of-state cannabis retailer, such as in Illinois or Michigan. That percentage stands to increase when Minnesota’s market eventually comes online. (Full Story)

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