Evers introduces medical marijuana plan; GOP pushes criminal justice reform

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers says his budget will include proposals to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin, but stops short of pushing for legalizing recreational use.

The Democrat's proposal would decriminalize possession of 25 grams or less for personal use.

The governor announced his proposal during a news conference at the state capitol in Madison.

CLICK HERE to watch the news conference.

“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.”

A doctor or practitioner under the direction of a doctor would be able to recommend medical marijuana for treatment of illnesses or conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, severe nausea and seizures.

It would be regulated by the Department of Health Services (DHS) and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). To get it started, Evers is proposing to spend $1,577,600 in the biennium, but his administration is projecting at least $2,268,700 in sales tax revenue.

A Wisconsin veteran who suffers from PTSD also spoke at the news conference. He advocates for marijuana as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

Steve Acheson said he was taking multiple painkillers when a college classmate offered him marijuana.

"That’s when someone in class offered to smoke cannabis with me and it was a light switch," Acheson says. "I was able to replace all medicine—and it has been nothing but cannabis."

The governor also wants to make it easier for people with seizure disorders to obtain CBD Oil.

Evers wants to establish a path for people who have completed their sentence and/or probation for possession charges to clear it from their record. The Evers administration says drug-related crimes account for 75-85 percent of all inmates in Wisconsin prisons.

Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for the country for black men, Evers says.

"Drug-related offenses account for a significant proportion of those inmate populations," Evers said. "The bottom line is that we're spending too much money prosecuting and incarcerating people--and often people of color--for non-violent crimes related to possessing small amounts of marijuana."

It's unclear at this point if Evers will be able to get bipartisan support for the marijuana proposals.

"You have to pay attention to what is happening in other states. If it’s another step toward full legalization, I guess that is something we will have to take more into serious consideration but I don’t think anyone wants to lock up people using marijuana recreational in the privacy of their own home yet we have to balance with things such as safety on the roads and other types of concerns," said state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette).

Brown County District Attorney David Lasee said he's worried it could open Pandora's box for adolescents.

"I am really concerned about the message it sends to young people about using drugs," said Lasee. "It sends the wrong message, that you can’t live your life in a drug free way, so I am concerned about that."

“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," Evers said.

Evers points to support for medical marijuana among voters in Wisconsin. In 2018, voters in 16 Wisconsin counties approved a non-binding referendums supporting legalization of either medical or recreational marijuana. Brown County voters overwhelmingly approved of an advisory referendum to legalize medical marijuana.

"I have seen the polling and know where the public is at, I do know about the referendums, yet I don’t know if there has been a full public conversation for what is good and bad for our state," said Nygren. "I live on the border of Michigan, so I think I will be seeing that firsthand. I just recently had a conversation with law enforcement, they are on the front lines of this, and we have seen results from other states where we have seen driving under influence go up considerably, even traffic fatalities go up, so those are the type of things we will have to talk about."

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, have introduced their own criminal justice reform proposals.

The GOP budget proposals call for pay increases for assistant district attorneys and public defenders; expanding treatment and diversion programs for people with alcohol and drug issues; working to retain correctional officers; and worker training.

“Cutting our state’s prison population in half – a goal of Governor Evers – would mean putting violent criminals back into our community,” said Rep. John Macco (R-Ledgeview). “Our criminal justice initiatives address the same concerns, while still keeping our Wisconsin families safe.”

The GOP says their goal is to prevent people from re-offending.

Rep. Dave Steffen (R-Green Bay) said, "These reforms throw support behind evidence-based programs to give individuals a path to recovery. Part of the solution is allowing offenders to enter voluntary substance abuse treatment rather than going to jail.”

The state budget is due by Feb. 28.



 
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