The governor of Wisconsin vetoed a bill that would have significantly increased criminal sanctions against those convicted of using fuels such as butane to extract cannabis.
Gov. Tony Evers (D) is an advocate for marijuana legalization and attempted to pass the reform through his state budget proposal to lawmakers last year. But this and other efforts to reform Wisconsin’s marijuana laws have so far been stymied in the GOP-controlled legislature.
Instead, Republican lawmakers approved a measure that would have made marijuana extraction using butane or another such fuel a Class E felony with the possibility of up to 15 years in prison. Currently, this is recognized as a Class I felony punishable by a maximum three-and-a-half-year sentence.
In his accompanying note to his veto decision, Evers highlighted the disproportionate impact of marijuana criminalization on communities of color demonstrated by stark racial disparities in cannabis-related incarcerations.
“I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to creating additional criminal offenses or penalties related to marijuana use,” he said. “This bill represents a continuation of past policies and paradigms we know have had detrimental effects on people, families, and communities across our state while also creating a new sentencing disparity for marijuana resin.”
Evers then went on to urge the Wisconsin legislature to consider alternative approaches to marijuana policy that don’t rely on punitive sanctions.
“States across our country—both Democrat and Republican-controlled alike—have and are taking meaningful steps to address increased incarceration rates and reduce racial disparities by investing in substance use treatment, community reentry programming, alternatives to incarceration, rehabilitation, and other data-driven, evidence-based practices we know are essential solutions to reforming our justice system,” he said. “The data and science are clear on this issue, and I welcome the Legislature to start having meaningful conversations around justice reform in Wisconsin.”
The marijuana extraction penalty bill included an amendment to legalize recreational cannabis in Wisconsin, but Republican lawmakers in the Senate voted to remove it.
Some Wisconsin GOP lawmakers, however, are intent on pursuing less comprehensive cannabis-related reforms.
A group of Republican lawmakers revealed they will introduce a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin, though the proposal is limited to non-smokable cannabis products, doesn’t allow for home cultivation of marijuana, and is limited to patients who have one of only eight qualifying conditions.
In August last year, Democrat colleagues in the Senate filed a measure to legalize recreational marijuana in Wisconsin but this has yet to gain traction.
Progress on cannabis reform in Wisconsin has been slow, but such proposals consistently perform well among voters in non-binding local ballots and polls. In 2018, more than half of the counties in Wisconsin voted on marijuana-related measures and each one was approved.
The medical cannabis questions garnered between 67 and 89 percent of the vote in the jurisdictions where they appeared on the ballot, while 60 to 76 percent of voters approved recreational cannabis questions in other localities.
Polls, meanwhile, consistently show majority support for recreational marijuana legalization in Wisconsin.