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2023-24 Decriminalization Bill Co-Sponsorship Analysis

LRB 0510 (Assembly Bill 861) was circulated for co-sponsorship and is the decriminalization legislation for the 2023-24 session supposedly led by Republicans and bi-partisan in nature. The co-Sponsorship analysis of this bill has to mention that the basics of this legislation of creating a state level statue for non criminal charges for simple marijuana possession has seen consecutive sessions in which Republicans have ‘taken the lead’ on this issue. Early in 2021 before the budget process even began, a previous version of this bill, SB 164 / AB 130 was introduced and we saw our first signs of the municipality comply feature. It should have come to no surprise that the municipality comply feature was going to be back, especially to muster support within the GOP controlled legislation and committee process.

My original article introducing the bill for co-sponsorship has some more of the legislative details of the bill, as does the Action Alert link below.


What is not surprising is that Democratic Senator Lena Taylor (Milwaukee) is leading her caucus on the issue.

Democrat Assemblywomen Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (Milwaukee) will be the lead in the democratic assembly caucus on this bill. This bill is largely due to her persistence and willingness to work with the current Republicans. Fellow Democratic Assembly Considine supported this bill again this session by being an original co-sponsor.


The lone and lead Republican Senator on this bill in the past was Kathleen Bernier. She did not seek re-election and although many Republican Senators have expressed support for reform, not one single Republican Senator signed on or is listed as an author or co-sponsor of the 2023-24 bill to decriminalize marijuana in Wisconsin.

We were highly expecting Senator Mary Felzkowski to take the lead on this bill also, but it seems her version of medical marijuana legislation is her only focus. Currently her bill is only available behind closed doors to the Republican Caucus as major news media reports that “Republicans are working on it”.

We asked Senator Patrick Testin to take the lead with Felzkowski, but that seemed to fall on deaf ears. Testin was the first Republican Senator to co-sponsor medical marijuana with smoking products / home grows, but that was back in 2019-20 and it was reported that Republican leaders did not like that move by Testin. That was the first time a Republican signed their name to a bill in nearly two decades. Testin has all but virtually disappeared from legislative cannabis reform since the industrial hemp bill passed.

Senator Rachael Cabral-Guevera is one of the most vocal Republicans out there calling for marijuana reform. Republican leadership awarded her Room 420 North her first term in session as an Assembly Rep. In 2021-22, “RCG” was the only Republican to co-sponsor a medical marijuana measure that allowed home grows and smoking products. She represents The City of Appleton which passed a recreational marijuana referendum by over 68%. Cabral-Guevara moves up from the Assembly to the Senate and we highly anticipated to see her work on this issue in the Senate.

Senator Eric Wimberger seemed to understand the need for this type of legislation and he defeated a non supportive Democrat to take the seat in 2020. Apparently Senator Wimberger (Green Bay) did not find this bill important enough to put his name on.

Senator John Jagler (Watertown) replaced former Senator Scott Fitzgerald. Jagler has become more supportive over the years as the popularity of marijuana grows but was still missing in action on this bill and his “testimony” in the the April 2022 public hearing on medical marijuana leave many to believe that any support he offers is lip service and is in bed with the Wisconsin Medical Society on the issue.

Rep. Sortwell (R)
Rep. Sortwell (R)

On the Republican Assembly side of things, we have a re-emergence of Rep Shae Sortwell as the GOP lead author on decriminalization. Last session he brought along 5 other Assembly Representatives (Brooks, Tittl, Cabral-Guevara, Moses and Summerfeld). This 2023-34 legislation did not attract any other co-sponsors in the Assembly and Rep. Sortwell stands alone as the only Republican to put his name on a marijuana bill in 2023.

The Wisconsin Cannabis Activist Network published my article “All Eyes on These Republicans in 2023” which provided campaign statements and backgrounds on some newly elected Republican Assembly Representatives like Joy Goeben, Tom Michalski, Angie Sapik, Nate Gustafson, Scott Johnson, Karen Hurd and Chanz Green. It is not too late for Republicans to add themselves as co-sponsors of this legislation.


In original authors/co-sponsors of this bill, we have eight (1) Republican and three (3) Democrats. I guess that makes the bill bipartisan in nature. It is extremely disappointing that the Republicans again are missing in action on cannabis reform. In the Democrats corner, if the current bills comply feature and wording would change to say “$100 fine or less“, I think it is safe to assume 100% of the Democrats would co-sponsor this bill and probably a few more Republicans would come on board also. But that is just my two cents worth. The devil is in the details and words do make a difference, in this case, just two of them.

The Assembly Version of the bill has received bill number AB 861 and a repeat committee assignment from previous sessions with Rep. John Spiros (R) chairing the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety The Senate version of the bill has not been assigned a bill number or committee assignment yet, but it is expected to go to prohibitionists and cannabis hater, Senator Van Wanggaard (R) and his Committee on Judiciary and Criminal Justice, which is already holding the legalization bill hostage by not holding a public hearing.

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Senator Wanggaard is set to chair the committee that oversees decriminalization and legalization bills.

Fines not crimes is the rallying cry for this legislation and it is important to contact your elected leaders again and again on the issue(s) surrounding marijuana reform.

Action Needed - Wisconsin Legislation Alert!
Action Needed – Wisconsin Legislation Alert! Click Image to go to the Action Network Page!

The Wisconsin Cannabis Activist Network has created an Action Alert about this bill which includes a prewritten support letter and legislator look up. Just use the “2023-24 Decriminalization Action Alert” and in a few clicks and/or inserting your address into the database will automatically target and send your letter to your Wisconsin State Senator and Wisconsin State Assembly Rep

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