Medical marijuana would be legalized in Wisconsin under a new Republican-backed bill, but qualifying individuals wouldn't be able to smoke it.
Instead, the measure would require that medical marijuana be dispensed in liquid, oil or pill form or applied topically — a break from a separate bipartisan bill led mostly by Democrats that was introduced earlier this session on the issue.
The latest bill to legalize medical marijuana in select forms and create a regulatory commission to oversee its distribution, from Republican Sen. Kathy Bernier, of Chippewa Falls, and Rep. Mary Felzkowski, of Irma, began circulating for cosponsors Wednesday morning.
Bernier said her legislation would create a "highly regulated" medical marijuana program "while still creating access to the relief many Wisconsinites need as they deal with continuous pain.”
“With 33 other states leading the way on this, we can and must find a way to make this work in Wisconsin," she said in a news release.
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, made it clear Wednesday morning that the measure faces little chance of becoming law.
“I personally oppose this bill and I don’t believe there are the votes in our caucus to pass it," he said.
Under the plan, individuals with a qualifying medical condition including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, seizure disorders and more would need a written recommendation from their doctors in order to apply for a registry identification card to obtain medical marijuana from a dispensary.
Those cards would be handed out by a Medical Marijuana Regulator Commission housed within the Department of Revenue and consisting of members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders — meaning it would be controlled by Democrats if the legislation passed this session.
The bill would also let the commission license entities to manufacture, posses, distribute or deliver medical marijuana. And it would impose an excise tax on licensed producers at a rate of 10% of the sales price on each wholesale sale in Wisconsin to a licensed dispensary. The proceeds would be funneled into a new segregated fund, the medical marijuana fund.
The new push comes after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, criticized the earlier, bipartisan bill as "way too broad" and said he'd be open to legalizing medical marijuana in pill form.
Vos in a statement Wednesday said he appreciates the push "to move the issue forward." Still, he added that "it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus.”
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Chris Taylor, who co-authored the earlier medical marijuana bill, knocked the latest piece of legislation in a news release as lacking.
"Our bipartisan bill incorporates the needs of patients and prioritizes their right to access the health care they deserve,” said Taylor, of Madison. “GOP leaders have the chance to put people and patients first by moving forward with our comprehensive, bipartisan bill, and I sincerely hope politics does not get in the way of the heath care needs of Wisconsin families yet again.”
The bill was referred to committee in October but has yet to receive a public hearing in either chamber.