A Wisconsin senator who recently introduced a bill to legalize marijuana in the state sent a letter to the leader of the U.S. Senate on Thursday, applauding his work to end federal cannabis prohibition.
State Sen. Melissa Agard (D) told U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that his leadership on the issue is “moving our country forward and away from harmful cannabis laws of the past.”
She said the draft federal legalization bill that Schumer introduced last month alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is a “thoughtful and comprehensive” piece of legislation to that end.
“Here in Wisconsin, I am proud to have introduced the first full legalization bill in our state’s history back in 2013 when I was a member of the State Assembly,” Agard said. “I have introduced this bill every session since then and we continue to gather additional support each year.”
She added that, this time around, her legalization bill—which she announced at a press conference outside a marijuana dispesnary in neighboring Illinois—already has “more cosponsors than in any previous session,” and she’s seeing “support grow around the state” as advocates and local leaders push for reform.
“I truly appreciate your efforts in the United States Senate to address this issue in a holistic manner rather than aiming for half measures or an incremental approach. Your efforts to reach out to colleagues on both sides of the aisle are to be commended as well. A policy that has so many wide reaching positive impacts should be bipartisan and celebrated as a win for our nation. Much like you, I am encouraging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to sign on to the bill I authored here in Wisconsin.”
Agard’s bill would legalize, tax and regulate sales of cannabis to adults 21 and older in Wisconsin, bringing the state in line with neighboring Illinois and Michigan, where cannabis is already legal. Adult residents could possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use, while visitors from out of state could possess no more than one-quarter ounce.
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The plan also creates a path for medical marijuana patients to access cannabis products without having to pay tax. To qualify, individuals 18 and older would need to be diagnosed by a physician as having or undergoing a debilitating medical condition or treatment.
The measure would also provide a path to expungement for people with past cannabis convictions and allow people to petition a judge for resentencing.
Agard also wrote a new op-ed arguing for her bill.
“The most dangerous thing about cannabis in Wisconsin is that it is illegal,” she said in the piece published in The Cap Times on Saturday. “However, my colleagues across the aisle will tell a different story to legitimize their ill-informed opinions on cannabis.”
“To be blunt, it is past time Wisconsin legalizes cannabis and taxes it like we already do alcohol,” she said. “We are losing business to our neighboring states who have already seen the light and legalized. We must begin to put our state on a path toward economic prosperity and building a 21st century farming industry. We must begin to right the wrongs of our state’s egregious racial disparities.”
Schumer’s bill in Congress would free up states like Wisconsin to enact their own policies without federal interference by removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It also contains a number of provisions aimed at promoting social equity in the industry and supporting small business participation.
“I applaud our federal leader’s support for reforming our national cannabis policies and for authoring this important legislation,” Agard said in a statement about her letter to the majority leader. “Senator Schumer has been steadfast in his efforts to end the federal prohibition of cannabis.”
“I am hopeful that we will see a vote on [the bill] during this session of Congress, and I encourage our entire Wisconsin delegation to vote in support of the bill,” she said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is a supporter of legalization and complained in April that he was “tired” of hearing about sales figures from his neighbor’s adult-use market, joking that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) “thanks me for having Wisconsinites cross the border to buy marijuana.”
Evers tried to legalize recreational and medical marijuana through his proposed state budget earlier this year, but a GOP-led legislative committee stripped the cannabis language from the legislation in May. Democrats tried to add the provisions back through an amendment the next month, but Republicans blocked the move.
Republican lawmakers, for their part, have filed bills to more modestly decriminalize marijuana possession in the state, but none of those proposals advanced during this year’s session.
Evers held a virtual town hall event in April where he discussed his cannabis proposal, emphasizing that polling demonstrates that Wisconsin residents back the policy change.
Locally, Wisconsin voters in three jurisdictions last year approved non-binding advisory questions in favor of marijuana legalization. Those moves came after Wisconsinites overwhelmingly embraced cannabis reform by supporting more than a dozen similar measures across the state during the 2018 election.
Late last year, city officials in the state’s capital, Madison, voted to remove most local penalties for cannabis possession and consumption, effectively allowing use by adults 18 and older.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.