Two Wisconsin lawmakers unveiled proposals to legalize medical cannabis during a press conference earlier today in Madison. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) introduced one bill that would legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes, and a second measure that would place an advisory referendum on the statewide ballot.
This isn’t the first time Sen. Erpenbach and Rep. Taylor have teamed up to push for medical legalization. The duo introduced a medical marijuana measure during the 2015-2016 legislative session, but Senate Bill 789, also known as the Compassionate Cannabis Care Act, failed to make it out of committee.
This year may be different—because at least one powerful member of the Wisconsin legislature may allow an MMJ bill to proceed.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was asked about medical marijuana during an interview last month. In a response that shocked many of his colleagues, Vos said he was open to legalizing cannabis for medical purposes.
“I’m not an expert on medical marijuana,” he remarked, “but I certainly have no problem saying, if you have a sincere medical need and your doctor prescribes it, and it’s done under the normal process of any other opiate, I would be open to that.”
Wisconsin legalized the limited use of CBD oil in 2014, but that measure did not allow for in-state production. That makes it nearly impossible for patients to gain access to legal low-THC products.
Both Vos and Gov. Scott Walker have expressed support for expanding the CBD oil program during this legislative session, but Walker wouldn’t go so far as to offer his support for a medical marijuana program. He told reporters: “I think studies show medically there are much more viable alternatives.”
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) said she supported of the two bills, and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) has stated that he is generally in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, but hasn’t reviewed the proposals introduced earlier today.
The press conference included the testimony of Steve Acheson, an Iraq War veteran who held up two freezer bags filled with prescription opiates to treat both physical and emotional pain from his military service.
Discovering medical cannabis, Acheson testified, changed his life. “Slowly, I was able to replace every single medication I had been taking with one natural, safe, and most importantly, effective alternative to the plethora of pills.”
Rep. Taylor acknowledged the growing opioid epidemic in the state. “Why on earth would we ignore a viable, commonsense solution that has been shown to dramatically reduce opioid abuse?” he said. “Why are we denying our veterans, who served our country and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, access to the medical care they say they need?”