Erpenbach backs the bud, moving from medical to recreational backer

Earlier this month, the Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley confirmed her non support of adult use marijuana legislation. At the time of the original airing of the story on June 7th, 2021, the twelve (12) Democrat Senators were noted as split 50/50 on the issue of recreational marijuana and that is probably what lead her to say “Full legalization is a nonstarter. The Democratic caucus is not in favor of that.

That statement must have struck a cord with some. I knew it to be true and reported on in via many articles and graphs.

Wisconsin State Senate Support Graph

In the above graph used in analysis up to this point, Senator Jon Erpenbach (D – Madison) fell into the “3 Incumbents sponsored medical marijuana with home grows” category. Senator Erpenbach has been a lead on medical marijuana in the Democratic Senate for over a decade, but he has not been labeled as a supporter of recreational marijuana by anyone or any organization and his support must have been in the closet, because it seemed Bewley had him on the wrong side of the issue.

After Bewley’s latest news blunder, the six Senate Democrats on record of support and Senator Jon Erpenbach got together and contacted the Journal Sentinel to publicly try to correct this situation. Good for him! Glad to see after all these years he is finally publicly supporting total reform. I do not know if I am ready to start calling him “Erpenbud” yet, but this latest change in stance can be labeled progress!

Here is the text of the Journal Sentinel Article:

The leader of the Senate Democrats is walking back comments she made last week declaring her caucus against legalizing marijuana as Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed. Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley told a national publication that legalizing recreational marijuana was a “nonstarter” and that “the Democratic caucus is not in favor of that.” But more than half of the Democratic caucus told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they do agree with the idea.

Joseph Hoey, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, told the Journal Sentinel that Bewley was misquoted. But The News Station’s editor said Hoey asked the outlet to change Bewley’s quote after its publication. “I don’t know what planet they’re on,” Matt Laslo, managing editor, said. Hoey also said Bewley doesn’t speak for the caucus she leads.

Seven of the 12 members of the Democratic caucus told the Journal Sentinel they support legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, including Minority Caucus Chair Jeff Smith of Brunswick and ranking Democratic member of the Joint Finance Committee Sen. Jon Erpenbach of West Point.

Sens. Melissa Agard and Kelda Roys of Madison and Sens. LaTonya Johnson, Lena Taylor and Chris Larson of Milwaukee also support full legalization. “Wisconsin citizens should not have to travel across state lines to purchase marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. It should be safely and legally available here,” Larson said. Some Democrats take different views on marijuana and have previously supported legalizing medical marijuana or moving toward decriminalization. Sen. Robert Wirch of Somers and Sen. Brad Pfaff of Onalaska have supported the use of medical marijuana.

“The devil is in the details,” Agard said. “Unfortunately, it’s about tangling through deep policy discussions.” Bewley’s spokesman said she would need to see the details of a bill to legalize marijuana. “(She) realizes the terrible toll that drug addiction takes on people in this state and some people believe that there is not adequate resources to deal with the substance abuse problems we already have,” Hoey said.

Republicans have rejected calls from Evers and other Democrats to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Legalizing and taxing marijuana was part of Evers’ budget proposal. Agard said she will be reintroducing her bill to permit recreational and medical use in summer and expects more lawmakers to cosponsor the legislation. The bill had 22 co-sponsors when it was introduced in 2019, but it did not receive a public hearing.

In the graph above, we know that 6 of the 12 are pretty vocal on the subject of safe and legal access for responsible adults and the other six, well…

3 had no history of co-sponsorship or public statements supporting (Erpenbach, Wirch and Carpenter)

Jon Erpenbach (D – Madison): Long time medical marijuana legislative lead in the Democratic Senate. His stance on adult marijuana medical only at this point as he always stayed the course on medical cannabis only. In Feb 2019 he wrote an op-ed for local newspapers talking about medical cannabis only. He has never co-sponsored adult use legislation as a Senator. Erpenbach is up for re-election in 2022.

So this latest news article that includes Senator Erpenbach as backing legal adult use cannabis might just be the catalyst needed for the now supportive Democratic Senate! As the only legislation active (Senate Bill 164) at the moment is a bill to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of marijuana, it is interesting to note that the Erpenbach name is absent from supporting that bill. He is not alone, as not one Democratic Senator has co-sponsored this Republican lead decriminalization bill.

In fairness to the the five (5) other Senators that need to move towards supporting ending the prohibition of cannabis in Wisconsin for responsible adults need to be name and recognized also. Would the following please stand up:

Robert Wirch (D-Kenosha): He has been elected since 1992. Wirch was the only Democrat to co-sponsor the Republican medical marijuana legislation.  Senator Wirch was singled out back in October 2019 as not being a co-sponsor of the bi-partisan medical marijuana effort that allowed smoking products and home grows (SB507).  Senator Wirch is up for re-election in 2022.

(608) 267-8979
District Phone:
(262) 694-7379Email:

Tim Carpenter (D – Milwaukee ): We are not aware that he sponsored adult use or decriminalization measures. In the past he was against medical marijuana patients growing their own medicine and it appears he has a change of heart as he did sponsor AB 570 in the 2019-20 session, which was medical marijuana legislation with home grows. Senator Tim Carpenter is up for re-election in 2022.

(608) 266-8535

2 undecided (Ringhand and Pfaff)

Janis Ringhand (D – Evansville ) – See below. Senator Janis Ringhand is up for re-election in 2022.

(608) 266-2253

Brad Pfaff (D – Onalaska ): Just elected in November 2020, this former State Dept of Agriculture head narrowly won his senate seat. As a candidate Pfaff said “I believe that when it comes to medical purposes, we in Wisconsin need to move forward in terms of medical purposes. I will work with law enforcement as well as community social groups, as well as educators as far as legalizing recreational marijuana.” What action will he take as an elected official is a wait and see for us.

(608) 266-5490

1 was not supportive (Bewley)

Janet Bewley (D – Mason ): See below. Senator Janet Bewley is up for re-election in 2022.

(608) 266-3510
(800) 469-6562Email:

As far as Democratic Leadership goes, Bewley is Minority Leader and Ringhand is the Assistant Minority Leader. I wrote an article in November 2020 entitled Wisconsin Democrats Elect Leadership for 2021-22 in which I pointed out the fact the the top two leaders in the Democratic Senate were not full supporters of legalization at all.

I believe to address the comprehensive nature of marijuana laws, we need legislators who sponsored the various bills throughout the 2019-20 session to work around both Republican and Democratic Leadership and start working together towards sensible cannabis reform.

With public support for reforming marijuana laws at an all time high, I have been requesting and recommending that key Senate and Assembly allies to form the first-ever Wisconsin Cannabis Caucus to develop and promote sensible cannabis policy reform and work to reform state cannabis laws.

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One Comment

  1. I read Senator Erpenbach retirement announcement on facebook:

    Today I announce I will not seek re-election to the State Senate. Representing the 27th Senate District has truly been an honor and I have been humbled by those who have placed their trust in me to represent their values in the legislature for over 20 years.

    I would like to thank my family, friends and staff that have supported me throughout my 24 years in state service. I would also like to thank all of the dedicated public employees from each and every state agency that work hard day in and day out to help legislators like me and the constituents we represent. I will miss spending time with all of the wonderful people across the state of Wisconsin that I have met along the way. I will also miss my Capitol parking space! 🙂

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