Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to legalize medical cannabis and small amounts of recreational marijuana will not pass the Wisconsin Legislature, Republican leaders of the budget-writing committee said April 25, 2019.

“It’s really off the wall scary,” Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling said of Evers’ proposal at a luncheon attended by lobbyists, Capitol insiders, and other power brokers.

“What is scary,” countered Evers’ spokesperson in a statement later, “is Republicans’ complete and total disregard for the will of the people.”

Evers included the pot legalization plan as part of his two-year state budget proposal that is pending before the Joint Finance Committee. Under his plan, medical marijuana would be legalized and possessing, manufacturing or distributing up to 25 grams of recreational pot would be decriminalized.

Evers has pointed to public support for legalization, increased tax revenue that would come in, and the benefit of medical marijuana to the help it could help as reasons to legalize it. A Marquette University Law School poll released April 10, 2019, put public support for medical marijuana at 83 percent and 59 percent for recreational marijuana.

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers proposes legalizing medical marijuana but Republicans are working to stymie the effort. (Courtesy photo)

Democrats have been trying every session for the past 10 years to get some form of marijuana legalization passed as other states have moved forward. There is a separate bill this year by Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent to fully legalize adult-use marijuana.

Thirty-three states — including neighboring Michigan, Minnesota, and Illinois — have legalized medical marijuana. In November 2018, Michigan became the 10th U.S. state to legalize adult-use marijuana.

Wisconsin also had a slate of marijuana questions in November 2018 that voters approved. In all 16 counties where a non-binding question was asked about whether to legalize marijuana, voters signaled their approval.

While Darling and Assembly member John Nygren were unified in opposition to the marijuana plan, they disagreed on Evers’ budget proposal to increase the tax on vaping products.

Evers’ budget would impose a tax on all e-cigarettes and vaping products equal to 71 percent of the product’s list price. The tax rate mirrors the existing rate on traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Darling said she was surprised by the amount of testimony from young people at four public budget hearings across the state about the prevalence of vaping and their desire to clamp down on its use.

But Darling said she favored more education first and the tax increase would not be considered. Nygren, however, said “that is something we will have to arm-wrestle on.”

He said the 71 percent tax Evers proposed may be too high, but he’s open to considering some level of higher tax for the products.

The Joint Finance Committee held its last public hearing on Evers’ budget in late April 2019 and will start meeting to take votes on his spending plan in May. Darling and Nygren said they expect the committees to finish its work in June, in time for the full Legislature to pass the budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

However, the question is whether Evers will sign the budget with line-item vetoes of veto the entire plan. If he does that, passing a budget would likely go well past the July 1 deadline. But unlike at the federal level, government in Wisconsin does not shut down during a budget impasse and state spending continues at the current level until a new plan is signed into law.

Nygren said he hoped Evers would sign the GOP-approved budget.

“If it doesn’t meet every single one of his objectives, is he going to veto it?” Nygren asked. “I think that would be foolish.”

— Scott Bauer

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