Two Wisconsin legislators plan to introduce legislation to legalize the use of medical marijuana after failing to get the bill out of committee during the past two legislative sessions.
The bill would create a medical necessity defense for those who wish to prove their medical need for marijuana and would allow for patients with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Alzheimer’s and other illnesses to use marijuana with a registered Department of Health Services ID card.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, plan to introduce the legislation sometime this session but have not yet set an exact date.
If the bill passed, Wisconsin would be the 21st state to legalize medical marijuana and the second state in the Midwest to do so after Illinois’ move to legalize use in August.
“It’s really a situation where the Legislature is behind the general public,” Julie Laundrie, spokesperson for Erpenbach, said. “Things will evolve and change here.”
This is Erpenbach’s third time introducing such legislation while it is Taylor’s first time, as she is taking the seat formerly held by U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.
Although the bill remains largely unchanged from its previous forms, Laundrie said some wording has been changed after working with medical marijuana advocates, like Gary Storck, from the Wisconsin and Madison chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Jacki Rickert from the organization, Is My Medicine Legal Yet?.
Storck said the bill would not only help those who need medical marijuana but could boost the Wisconsin economy by creating new jobs and restoring the hemp industry.
“There is no reason the majority should be standing away from this, they should be embracing it because it stands to fulfill [Gov. Scott] Walker’s 250,000 jobs pledge,” Storck said.
The past two sessions, the bill did not gain enough support to get out of committee, but Laundrie said public support continues to grow.
However, getting a public hearing secured for the bill would likely be most difficult, she added.
Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwautosa, chair of the Senate Committee on Health Services, where the bill will be introduced, has previously voiced her opposition for the bill during past public hearings, the last of which occurred in 2009.
Vukmir said she would continue to oppose the bill and criticized the bill sponsors as using unethical means to get support.
“What I resent most is this façade you are putting forth, using people who are dying of cancer, using people who have other illnesses, as your shield, and I think it’s something more than a ruse for you to move towards full legalization of marijuana,” Vukmir said in public hearing in 2009. “I wish you would come right out and admit that.”
Dean Cady, a staff member in Vukmir’s office, said he would not speculate on Vukmir’s decision to hold a public hearing for the bill because the legislation has not yet been introduced or circulated for co-sponsors.