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Assembly leader says medical marijuana will pass someday

Posted at 6:14 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 19:14:06-05

MADISON — Medical marijuana will not become legal in Wisconsin next year or anytime soon, despite broadening support, the state Assembly's top Republican -- himself an advocate for legalization -- said Thursday.

"It's going to take a while," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. Finding consensus on the issue is difficult because of varied concerns from other Republicans, members of law enforcement and the medical community, Vos said.

"It's not like it's a panacea that everybody thinks, `Oh, jeez this is an easy slam dunk,"' Vos said. "It's a complicated issue that we want to get right."

When asked when legalization may occur, Vos said simply "I do not know."

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who proposed legalizing medical marijuana earlier this year, said lawmakers should act now.

"Why not get it done?" Evers said in an AP interview Thursday. "I think this is the perfect time to do something."

Vos said he believes progress is being made, noting that support has grown among Assembly Republicans from him and one other lawmaker to now almost half of the 63-member GOP caucus. However, Senate Republicans remain opposed. A bill must pass the Senate and Assembly and be signed by the governor before becoming law.

Vos has supported medical marijuana for years and there are bipartisan efforts to change the law this year, including for the first time a bill co-sponsored by Republicans.

Vos defended not being able to get a bill passed despite his support.

"There's nobody who can say I'm not in favor of this idea," Vos said. But putting together the support needed to pass a bill takes time, he said.

Democrats have long supported legalizing medical marijuana and have used the issue as a campaign issue against Republicans. Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz accused Vos of having token support, saying he only speaks in favor of it because polls show a majority of Wisconsin voters are for it.

"There seems to be at least the recognition of members about how out of touch they are with where the public is and where good public policy is," Hintz said in an interview this week.

For about four years, Vos has supported a limited legalization of medical marijuana, available only for chronic medical conditions with a tightly controlled network of providers that would be regulated by the state. He opposes allowing medical marijuana to be smoked.

In 2018, 16 counties and two Wisconsin cities, representing 52% of the state's population, approved non-binding referendums in support of legalizing either medical or recreational marijuana. A Marquette University Law School poll in April showed 83% of respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana and 59% backed full legalization.

The latest bill, introduced earlier this month, comes from Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski, a cancer survivor, and Republican Sen. Kathy Bernier. Felzkowski said her goal was simply to have a hearing on the bill, which would mark the first time such a measure has ever gotten that far in the process.

Vos said he feared holding a public hearing because Democrats would turn it into a "political circus."

"I want this to become law but people have to trust that it's going to be a deliberate process, it's going to take a while," Vos said. "We've got to convince people that it's the right idea and eventually it will become law."

Wisconsin is an island on pot legalization. Neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are among 33 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and 11 states, including Michigan and Illinois, have legalized it for recreational purposes.