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Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal SentinelPublished 11:05 a.m. CT Dec. 11, 2019
MADISON – Two Republican lawmakers tried Wednesday to breathe new life into a proposal to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it was blocked within an hour by the leader of the state Senate.
The proposal from Rep. Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Sen. Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls would create a new state program to license dispensaries of marijuana for anyone with a serious medical condition, like cancer, AIDS or post-traumatic stress disorder.
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald quickly rejected the idea as he’s done before, saying he personally opposes the idea and doesn’t believe his GOP-controlled chamber is on board.
Felzkowski, who is a cancer survivor, said her only goal at this point is to have a public hearing on the proposal and anticipated she would have to change minds in both GOP caucuses, which have long opposed similar proposals from Democrats
“I took a whole lot of medications with a whole lot of side effects that I still deal with today,” Felzkowski said. “I can look at what happened to me and other people and see that this could be used without those side effects, and I’lI tell you what … those side effects were horrific.”
The bill would create a state commission controlled by Democrats under the current party makeup of state government that would be charged with licensing manufacturers and dispensaries of the marijuana and determining whether new medical conditions should make someone eligible.
Under the bill, anyone with cancer, Crohn’s disease, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and seizure disorders would be eligible with a doctor’s recommendation.
The marijuana could only be manufactured in the form of a liquid, oil, pill, or tincture or in a form that is applied topically.
While Fitzgerald has long opposed such proposals, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers supports creating a state program and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is open to the idea.
Evers proposed creating a program within the Department of Health Services in his first state budget that would have included a 10% tax surcharge on retail sales in addition to the state’s regular sales tax, but it was removed by GOP lawmakers.
A spokeswoman for Evers didn’t respond to whether the governor would support the GOP proposal, but told the Associated Press “it’s good to see some Republicans following the lead of Democrats to support an idea that’s overwhelmingly popular with Wisconsinites.”
“The governor wants to see more bipartisan work and hopes there will at least be a public hearing on the issue of medical marijuana. It’s unfortunate that Speaker Vos and Senator Fitzgerald continue to ignore their constituents and even their own Republican colleagues,” she said.
A Marquette University Law School poll showed 83% of those surveyed supported medical mariajuana.
Vos said in recent months he’d be open to the idea with certain restrictions. He said in a statement Wednesday he appreciates Felzkowski’s efforts to move the issue forward but that “it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus.”
“Politicians, their minds can change,” Bernier said. “Helping to educate our colleagues is part of our chore — part of our task in getting a hearing … it is a viable option for some individuals.”
Under the bill, Dane and Milwaukee counties could have up to 10 dispensaries. Counties with populations smaller than 500,000 but more than 100,000 could have up to five. No more than three would be allowed in counties with a population less than 100,000.
The program also would create an excise tax on a licensed manufacturer of medical marijuana at the rate of 10% of the sales price on each wholesale sale of marijuana to a licensed dispensary. That revenue goes into a fund for the program.
Democrats have repeatedly called for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes and for recreational use but have been blocked by Republican lawmakers, some of whom have cited fears of abuse.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Chris Taylor, Democratic lawmakers from the Madison area, said Wednesday they fear the GOP proposal doesn’t go far enough and want GOP lawmakers to take another look at a bill already introduced by Democrats.
“At some point, GOP leadership needs to realize that Wisconsin has quickly fallen behind,” Erpenbach of West Point said in a statement. “Our neighboring states have legal cannabis in some form, and Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly support it for medical use.”
The Democratic bill would create a medical marijuana registry that would apply to many more medical conditions than the GOP proposal.
In proposing their bill, Felzkowski and Bernier cited broad support for the idea.
Wisconsin is one of a minority of states that have not legalized marijuana use in some form. Thirty-three states have medical marijuana programs, including states bordering Wisconsin. In 2018, sixteen counties and two cities voted to support medical or recreational marijuana in referendums.