There was once a time when the only way to legalize marijuana in any given state was through expensive voter initiatives. However, these types of campaigns were typically fought tooth and nail by local and state political figures and given only a fifty-fifty shot at becoming law. Even then, there were no guarantees the state would get behind them with full support. But now, the latest trend in the legalization movement has less to do with traditional advocacy groups pushing a boulder uphill and more to do with state officials attempting to guide the legislative process from the top.
Wisconsin is one of those places where the call for marijuana legalization is coming from highest state office.
Governor Tony Evers said earlier this week that he was including a couple of pot-friendly proposals in his latest state budget – one intended to decriminalize pot possession in small amounts and other aimed at legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. This push, he says, would bring the state’s pot policies more in line with what is happening in more than half the nation, while also giving a heavy nod to those local jurisdictions who voted recently in favor of non-binding referendums supporting pot reform.
“People shouldn’t be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately needed medication that can alleviate their suffering,” Evers said.
The governor’s medical marijuana program is comprehensive in design and would service tens of thousands of patients. It allows state-licensed physicians to write recommendations for patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, severe nausea and seizures.
In addition, Evers is calling for the decriminalization of marijuana in amounts of 25 grams or less. He also plans to drum up an expungement program soon that would allow those people convicted of small-time pot offenses the opportunity to get those stricken from their criminal records.
“It’s not just about access to health care, it’s about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity,” Evers said. “Too many people, often persons of color, spend time in our criminal justice system just for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That doesn’t make our communities stronger or safer.”
Although the governor’s plan sounds great to cannabis advocates, the world on the street is that it has little to no chance at going the distance in the Republican-dominated legislature. The state is just not yet ready to venture into legal cannabis territory, according to Republican House Speaker Robin Vos.
“Without having specific details, his proposal appears to go too far,” he said. “It makes it easier to get recreational marijuana and provides a pathway to full legalization, which I do not support. I’m open to medical marijuana when it’s prescribed by a doctor but it has to be done in a targeted way without allowing recreational use.”
The upper chamber share that sentiment. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who opposes medical marijuana, doesn’t believe the governor’s proposals will make it out alive.