Newly sworn-in Democratic Governor Tony Evers announced Monday that he is taking Wisconsin cannabis policy reform into his own hands by attaching proposals to his spending budget this year. With these proposals, Gov. Evers aims to legalize medical cannabis, decriminalize recreational possession and use, and expunge qualifying arrest records.
“Our budget will decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 25 grams or less, and we’ll also be creating a path for expungement for these crimes for those who’ve completed their sentence or probation,” wrote Evers on Twitter.
According to the statement, “Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for Black men,” and 75 to 85 percent of all inmates are being held for drug-related crimes. The racial disparity in marijuana arrests has long been noted throughout the United States and Evers wants to change it in the Badger State.
“The bottom line is that we are spending too much money prosecuting and incarcerating people — and often persons of color — for non-violent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana,” wrote Evers.
Medical Cannabis in Wisconsin
Legalizing cannabis for a medicinal purpose in Wisconsin is inspired by Evers’ own experience with a debilitating disease. “As a cancer survivor, I know the side effects of a major illness can make everyday tasks a challenge. People shouldn’t be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately-needed medication that can alleviate their suffering,” Gov. Evers said. “Wisconsinites overwhelmingly agree that this is a critically important issue. But it’s not just about access to health care, it’s about connecting the dots between racial disparities and economic inequity.”
Currently, only nonpsychoactive CBD oil is legal in Wisconsin, and it is unclear whether the mostly Republican state Legislature will support Gov. Evers’ new proposals. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) is against the legalization of medical marijuana, but the Republican leaders of the State Assembly have shown that they may be open to legalizing the plant for medical use.
The full details of the medical marijuana policy outlined by Evers will not be released until February 28. In the statement released Monday, the governor’s office did acknowledge that the proposal establishes that physicians would be able to recommend medical cannabis to patients to alleviate symptoms caused by debilitating conditions like cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, severe nausea, and seizures. Registered, card-holding patients would also be permitted to cultivate up to 12 mature plants at home.
The proposal also eliminates the requirement under the current law that a patient using CBD oil must have a recommendation from a physician in order to avoid prosecution.
Decriminalization, Not Legalization
While the proposal decriminalizing 25 grams or less of marijuana for recreational purposes faces a more difficult challenge in the Legislature, it has support from the Wisconsin voters. According to a recent poll from Marquette University Law School, 59 percent of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana. Some cities, like Madison, have already decriminalized personal cannabis possession.
Under Gov. Evers’ proposal, the recreational possession, manufacturing, and distribution of 25 grams or fewer of marijuana would be decriminalized state-wide. It does not establish a framework for retail dispensaries, but any person who sells the 25 grams or fewer at one time would be doing so within the confines of the law.
Driving a motor vehicle under the influence and consuming in public places or on school property would remain illegal and punishable by law.
“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,” Evers said. “This shouldn’t be a Republican issue or Democratic issue, and I look forward to working on both sides of the aisle to pass this proposal in my budget.”