CAPSESSION-FEB09-79-02092016185128 (copy)

Rep. Melissa Sargent (D) during an assembly session at the Capitol on Feb. 09, 2016, Madison, WI. PHOTO BY SAIYNA BASHIR

Marijuana would be legal in Wisconsin for medicinal and recreational use under a bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison.

This is Sargent's third attempt to bring state lawmakers on board with legalizing marijuana. Similar bills introduced in the previous two legislative sessions were not given hearings by the Legislature's Republican majority.

The proposal has "never been more worthy of consideration" than now, as negotiations over the state budget are at a standstill, Sargent said at a press conference announcing the bill. 

"This is a true economic stimulus package," Sargent said of the bill.

Under the 102-page bill, people who produce, process and sell marijuana for recreational use would obtain a permit and pay a sales tax and an excise tax. The facilities that would dispense medicinal marijuana would pay the state an annual fee of $5,000, in addition to an initial licensing fee of $250. 

A person who is prescribed medicinal marijuana would be placed on a statewide registry and would pay a fee to obtain a card through the state Department of Health Services. 

Any revenue generated from permits, applications and taxes would go into a segregated fund and could then be transferred to other areas of the budget, Sargent said. 

Recreational use would be made legal for anyone age 21 or over — up to 2 ounces in possession for Wisconsin residents and up to one-quarter ounce for nonresidents — and medicinal use would be approved for people age 18 and up who have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition. Youth under the age of 18 with a qualifying medical condition could use medicinal marijuana with the consent of their parent or guardian. Medicinal users could possess up to 3 ounces at a time.

People would be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use before they would be required to go through a permitting process. 

The bill would require insurers to cover medicinal marijuana, and would prohibit employers from discriminating against marijuana users unless the substance interfered with work.

Legal violations such as driving under the influence would treat pot similarly to alcohol. The bill would also exempt marijuana from recently enacted laws requiring drug testing for some public benefits. 

Also under the bill, schools would teach children about marijuana similarly to the way they teach about alcohol and tobacco use. 

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would oversee quality and safety, including developing best practices for the packaging and labeling of marijuana products.

"I’m a mom of four," Sargent said. "I'm also someone who has never chosen to use marijuana. I’m not saying by legalizing marijuana in the state of Wisconsin that I think everyone should go out and get high tomorrow, or the day after we get the bill."

However, she continued, marijuana is part of the culture in Wisconsin and in the U.S., regardless of whether it is legal. 

"The most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it remains illegal," she said.

While the room where Sargent and Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, held the press conference was full of citizens who support legalization, the proposal's odds of success are slim. 

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, introduced a pair of bills in Feburary that would legalize the use of medical marijuana for patients with qualifying conditions and put the question to voters in the form of a nonbinding statewide referendum. The bills have not been given hearings. 

Some Republican lawmakers have recently expressed a willingness to at least consider medical marijuana — but likely not anytime soon. 

Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, introduced a bill in May that would reduce the maximum penalty for possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana to a municipal violation, with a forfeiture of $100. That bill has the support of some Democrats, including Sargent, and some Republicans, but has not been given a hearing. 

But Gov. Scott Walker said in January he is "not interested in opening the door towards legalizing marijuana, be it overall or even for medical marijuana, because I think studies show medically there are much more viable alternatives."

The last time the Marquette University Law School poll asked about the issue, in July 2016, 59 percent of voters said marijuana should be legalized and regulated like alcohol. 

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