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GOP Medical Cannabis Bill Needs Amending

Republican members of the Assembly have introduced medical cannabis legislation to establish a program in Wisconsin. As written, their plan is impractical. As of January 23rd, the legislation has yet to be assigned a bill number, nor have all the co-sponsors of the bill been published. We highly expect Robin Vos (R) to send this bill to an Assembly Committee that will quickly hold a public hearing on this bill. Testifying in person at the State Capitol Building in Madison is likely the only time during the 2023-24 session you will get to voice your opinion on record to Republicans about a medical cannabis program for Wisconsin. We will keep you posted on the public hearing date! A Citizen’s Guide – How to Testify at a Public Hearing document has been prepared to help you with your mission.

A few elements of the bill that are problematic as addressed by The Wisconsin Cannabis Activist Network, Wisconsin advocacy groups, Wisconsin Elected Officials, as well as major cannabis organizations such as NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and MPP (Marijuana Policy Project) are:

* Limiting the total number of state-licensed dispensaries to no more than five. This is not enough access points to adequately serve Wisconsin’s patient community and this will force many patients to continue to seek out their medicine from neighboring states, from the unregulated market, or go without it altogether.  

* The measure requires dispensaries to employ licensed pharmacists. Pharmacists are not trained in medical cannabis and few wish to take on this additional responsibility. In addition, hiring pharmacists will further drive up costs for dispensary operations — costs that ultimately will be passed on to patients. Finally, pharmacists are state employees. Employing them in dispensaries will mandate these state employees violate federal law. In addition, Republican lawmakers are aware and acknowledge that Wisconsin already has a shortage of pharmacists in our state.

* The proposal prohibits patients from accessing herbal cannabis preparations. The inhalation of herbal cannabis provides fast-acting relief for many patients and allows them to self-regulate their dosing. By contrast, orally consumed cannabis formulations typically are much slower acting and are much more difficult to self-titrate.

* Barring patients from home-cultivating their own medicine. Permitting limited home cultivation provides patients with reliable, affordable, and consistent access to the medicine they rely on. This option is especially important for those patients who may not be able to consistently afford cannabis products available at dispensaries, or who do not reside in proximity to these outlets.

* The measure mandates dispensaries be state-run. Every state medical cannabis program relies on private stores, not state-run dispensaries. That’s because licensing private cannabis stores is not federally preempted. However, requiring state employees to violate federal law by selling cannabis almost surely is. Furthermore, the measure provides patients with no legal protections until these state-run stores are operational, which may leave patients in legal limbo indefinitely.

* One Processor License. Having one processor is a vulnerability in your supply chain and certainly has the potential to create monopoly power on the processing. Limiting licensing to one processor until the program reaches a certain size could also drive up the cost.

Medical Necessity defense. The bill does not specifically do enough for the creation of or address medical necessity defense in criminal court procedures.

* Out of program purchases/possession. Protecting patients who possess cannabis not directly purchased from the state’s medical program should be included.

* Let doctor’s decide. Legislatively limiting qualifying conditions should be replaced with a system in which doctor’s and patients decide if medical cannabis is right for them, not lawmakers.

* 2nd Amendment Protections are lacking. Being placed on a state registry for a medicine that removes Wisconsinites 2nd Amendment rights is unconstitutional and wrong. No other medicine requires this.

Proponents of this bill have routinely called it the most restrictive in the nation. But the passage of an overly restrictive, impractical bill is not in the best interest of patients, public health or for the State of Wisconsin.

Demand lawmakers do better and amend this bill in ways that will provide patients with easy and expeditious access to an array of cannabis products. Please use the pre-written letter on the Action Network Platform to urge them to implement necessary changes to this proposal or write your own!

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