The Wisconsin Legislature will not legalize recreational or medical marijuana during this legislative session, the leader of the state Senate said Thursday.
Gov. Tony Evers and Democrats have pushed for years to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, but have not been successful in convincing the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Though Evers included both medical and recreational proposals in his two-year state budget plan, legalizing medical marijuana was considered more of a possibility this session as it has support from some Republican lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
But speaking at an online event hosted by WisPolitics.com on Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, ruled out the possibility of recreational or medical marijuana becoming law any time in the next year.
“First of all, we don’t have support from the caucus, and that’s pretty clear,” LeMahieu said. “We don’t have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes.”
LeMahieu said senators have “societal concerns” about legalization. He also argued states should not move to legalize medical marijuana before the federal government.
“I think it’s somewhat important not to pass laws that are in conflict with the federal government,” he said. “I think that discussion needs to be done at the federal level and not have some rogue state doing it.”
Several of Wisconsin’s neighboring states have changed their marijuana laws in recent years. Illinois and Michigan have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana. Minnesota has legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized recreational marijuana.
LeMahieu said other states’ actions pose law enforcement challenges, but shouldn’t otherwise affect Wisconsin.
“I don’t think, from a policy standpoint, it puts a whole lot of pressure on us,” he said.
Currently, only the use of CBD oil, an oil extracted from cannabis plants that does not include THC, is legal in Wisconsin. Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed that law in 2017.
Supporters of medical marijuana legalization argue it is an effective treatment for a number of medical conditions and should be made available to Wisconsinites who are living with those conditions. Supporters of recreational marijuana argue regulating its sale would create tax revenue for the state and would also combat the well-documented racial disparities in those charged with marijuana-related crimes.
A 2020 report from the American Civil Liberties Union ranked Wisconsin 14th in the nation for racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession, finding Black people are four times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession in the state.
Thirty-six states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana and 17 states are regulating recreational use of marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A 2019 poll from Marquette University Law School found 83 percent of Wisconsinites support legalizing medical marijuana and 59 percent support legalizing recreational use.