Lawmakers have blunt conversation on medical marijuana bill during public hearing

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- For the first time in over a decade, Republican lawmakers held a public hearing on a bill to legalize medical marijuana in some forms.

Those who testified in support had high hopes about easing marijuana laws in the state, but the proposal won't become law this year since the Legislature adjourned and doesn't have plans to return until 2023.

Bill sponsors State Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) and State Rep. Patrick Snyder (R- Schofield) said they held the committee hearing to get input and recommendations on their proposal that would allow people with debilitating conditions to use medical cannabis with a doctor's recommendation.

Lawmakers held a blunt conversation on the bill during a public hearing on 4/20, a day many celebrate cannabis which remains illegal in some states including Wisconsin.

Proponents of full legalization called the hearing a political stunt, meanwhile supporters argued it was necessary to get feedback to make tweaks to the bill when they reintroduce it next year.

"I know there's a lot of people saying today's hearing is a gimmick -- it's all political. No, it's not," said Felzkowski. "This allows us to start building out that framework."

Polling shows more than 80% of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana for medical use, according to the Marquette University Law School. However, Republicans who control the legislature have prevented marijuana bills from moving forward.

"It's something 37 states are doing and I don't know why we are so behind the times," said Snyder.

Eighteen states have fully legalized marijuana while 38 states have medical marijuana programs.

"I think everyone should be able to use [marijuana], not just people who need it for medical purposes," said Christopher Garvin of Appleton.

"I'm for medical marijuana if people really need it," Willy Kopenski of Madison said. "Anything that can help alleviate pain."

The Republican bill would create a Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission overseen by the Department of Revenue. The Commission would be responsible for regulating, enforcement and administering licenses.

Marijuana legalization proponent, State Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison), said the Republican bill is "half-baked" because she is pushing for broader legislation.

"It's high time that we here in Wisconsin catch up with folks across the nation," Agard said. "We must put our efforts behind full cannabis legalization.”

Felzkowski said at this time she is not ready to discuss recreational marijuana. Her proposal is limited, meaning it doesn't allow people to smoke medical marijuana or grow it themselves. She believes having restrictions on the bill will lead to more Republicans supporting it.

The proposal would allow medical professionals to prescribe patients medical marijuana in a liquid, oil, pill, tincture, or topically applied form. Qualifying medical conditions include; cancer, Crohn's disease, ALS, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and seizure disorders.

Felzkowski said she's open to making changes to the bill to add more medical conditions, but resisted calls from Democrats to include an option to inhale medical marijuana due to concerns over secondhand smoke in households with children.

In recent years, there's been growing support among Republicans who favor legalization marijuana in Wisconsin according to the latest Marquette University Law School Poll. A majority of Republicans (51%) surveyed said they support marijuana legalization, with 42% opposed. That's a 10-point shift in opinion from 2019 when 41% supported legalization, 56% opposed.

The last time lawmakers held a hearing on a medical marijuana bill was over a decade ago when Democrats had control of the Legislature.

In 2009, the Health Committee held a joint hearing on a proposal sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Mark Pocan that would allow people with debilitating medical conditions to grow and buy medical marijuana with a written recommendation from a doctor. The bill did not pass.

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