WALTERS: Capitol setback for medical marijuana advocates

Print Article

HOW Democratic Gov. Tony Evers answered a question on legal marijuana use may have given Republican legislators afraid of "pot on every corner" reasons to take no action on legalizing medical marijuana.

At a recent Wisconsin Technology Council event days after he took office, Evers made three newsworthy statements when asked about medical and recreational marijuana.

FIRST, Evers said the 2019-21 state budget he gives lawmakers on Feb. 28 will include the "first steps" toward legalizing medical marijuana. He gave no specifics about how it would be regulated, however.

Second, he said he wants a discussion - and maybe a "statewide referendum" - on whether to legalize recreational marijuana. It would be the first statewide advisory referendum since 2006, when voters overwhelmingly recommended restoring the death penalty.

Third, he said he supports legalizing recreational marijuana: "I personally would sign [that bill into law]. I just want to make sure we do it correctly."

But Republican Assembly leaders said, with his offhand comments endorsing medical and recreational marijuana, the new governor may have killed any chance that medical marijuana will soon be legalized.

ASSEMBLY Speaker Robin Vos said he personally supports the carefully regulated use of medical marijuana. He made it clear that is his personal position, since the 63 Assembly Republicans who control half of the Legislature have not discussed the issue.

But, Vos said, "I do not want it to be a half-handed effort like in other states, where you can grow it yourself, you can get a phony doctor's excuse.

"I don't want to have medical marijuana - which I support - somehow lead us down the slippery slope to where there's pot on every corner."

Vos said he does not support legalizing recreational marijuana, so it was "incredibly counter-productive" for Evers to endorse both changes.

"He started out saying he's open to legalizing medical marijuana and literally, in the same day, slid down the slope saying he would support full legalization - exactly what many [Assembly Republicans] are afraid of," Vos told reporters, adding:

"I hope he has not poisoned the conversation through his inexperience. But, perhaps, he has."

ASSEMBLY Majority Leader Jim Steineke said the governor's comments "honestly played into the fears of a lot of us that support medical marijuana."

Medical marijuana "should be for people with debilitating disease, or chronic pain - things like that," Steineke added.

Evers backing both medical and recreational use of marijuana "is a problem for a lot" of Assembly Republicans, Steineke said. "I'm not sure how we regain the trust that this is the first - and only step - when it comes to medicinal marijuana."

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told reporters he does not expect the Republican-controlled Senate to debate legalizing marijuana use. "I still don't believe the support is there . to move in that direction."

BUT the Democrat who will again be chief Assembly sponsor of a bill legalizing marijuana use, Rep. Melissa Sargent, of Madison, praised Evers for being the first governor to join the cause.

"It is in the best interest of our state to look toward the future and recognize the vast medicinal, economic and social justice opportunities marijuana legalization would bring to our state," she said in a statement announcing her new bill to make that change.

Sargent said 16 local governments held advisory referendums on Nov. 6 that asked voters whether medical or recreational marijuana should be legalized and all referendums passed.

That proved that "the people are ahead of the politicians on this topic, and agree that the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal," Sargent added.

MEANWHILE, the Marquette University Law School poll released last week found 59% of those who responded favored legalizing marijuana; 35% opposed. The Jan. 16-20 poll of 800 respondents had a margin of error of +/-3.9%.

Pollster Charles Franklin said that was significant change since the poll asked the same question in September of 2014, when only 46% backed legalizing marijuana and 51% opposed.

Wisconsin is part of a national "real change over the last 10 years" in views on legal marijuana, Franklin said. Ten states - including Michigan - and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, while other states have legalized medical marijuana.

"Public opinion has actually moved quite substantially," Franklin said.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

Print Article

Read More Columnists

Featured letter Charles: It was our duty to make decisions

April 15, 2019 at 10:19 am | For weeks now, the Beloit School Board and administration have discussed the best way to fill an administrative vacancy at Fruzen School and provide the much-needed stability and support for staff an...

Comments

Read More

WALTERS: Changes sought in child support, custody process

April 15, 2019 at 9:16 am | A bipartisan group of legislators crafted a package of changes that would rewrite rules governing the emotional issues of child custody and child support payments when parents split up. Last year, c...

Comments

Read More

WILL: Two more tests for Republicans to fail

April 11, 2019 at 10:23 am | WASHINGTON - In 1964, although there was scant chance that Americans would choose to have a third president in 14 months, Lyndon Johnson took no chances. The economy was sizzling and in November John...

Comments

Read More

Featured letter Better way to understand candidates' vote totals

April 08, 2019 at 10:08 am | As shown below, on April 2, 2019, candidates for the Beloit School Board received votes which were publicized in various media along with a percentage figure that is a candidate's total divided by th...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(608) 365-8811
149 State Street
Beloit, WI 53511

©2019 Beloit Daily News Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X