YEAR IN REVIEW
Working to end cannabis prohibition in Wisconsin by engaging and informing lawmakers.
Cannabis for the win!
We had an exciting start to 2019, welcoming a new governor who promised to take steps toward ending cannabis prohibition by decriminalizing it and regulating its medical use. Cannabis patients all across the state attended budget listening sessions and voiced their strong support for safe, regulated access to cannabis as a medication. They stressed growing their own plants would make Cannabis financially accessible and Tony Evers responded by putting provisions in the budget that would decriminalize possession of 25 grams (or less) of Cannabis, as well as including a robust medical program that would have given renewed value to our state motto: “Forward!”
The budget battle (a title that gives it more of a competitive sound than it should have) is the perfect place to start our recap of the year because the best chance we had of Cannabis reform in 2019 was including it as a part of the state’s overall spending plan. On May 9th , and on a party-line vote of 11-4, Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee stripped 131 items from Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget plan, Cannabis reform among them.
During this time, chapters of NORML in Wisconsin held the first of several planned lobby days at the state Capitol. With 20 volunteers, we had over 50 meetings with representatives and or their staff. Our message was simple: we have a wealth of information about Cannabis reform at our disposal and we would love to share it with you to help craft better policy. We were well received by some and not received at all by others. Overall, we came away with a positive outlook on how to continue growing relationships and building bridges with legislators in the coming year.
Representative Melissa Sargent, who has been a long-standing champion of Cannabis reform, coining the phrase “the most dangerous thing about marijuana in Wisconsin is that it is illegal,” introduced AB-220, a bill legalizing the adult use of Cannabis on April 19. On that same day, Wisconsin NORML held its first annual board meeting where board members were nominated and elected. Alan Robinson was elected chairman and Executive Director, Spencer Brooks Graham was elected to Communications Director, Valerie Walasek was elected as Treasurer, and Eric Marsch was elected as Outreach Director.
Representative David Crowley addressed the small crowd at our first board meeting and reminded us that groups like ours serve a valued purpose by providing information to legislators and the general public. He noted that since his first contact with our group, he has tossed out the outdated slang term “Marijuana” and began referring to the plant by its actual name, “Cannabis.”
It’s this sort of openness to review and act on new information that we hope and look for every time we visit the Capitol.
On another visit,Wisconsin NORML partnered with Wisconsin Veterans for Compassionate Care and met with Senator Patrick Testin. The gentleman from Stevens Point was familiar with Cannabis due to his work on the Hemp pilot program; however, he had some questions about THC rich Cannabis and although he wasn’t ready to consider fully legalizing the plant, he was interested in authoring a bill that would regulate medical access.
Senator Testin (R) worked with Senator Jon Erpenbach (D) and Representative Chris Taylor (D) on AB-570 and its Senate counterpart SB-507. In the Assembly, the bill was referred to the committee on Health and Human Services. Unfortunately, the chairman of that committee is Joe Sanfelippo and he decided not to give the bill a hearing. The chairman of the Health and Human Services committee in the senate is Senator Testin. Scott Fitzgerald sent the Senate version to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protections, which is chaired by another vehement prohibitionist, Senator Duey Stroebel all but ensuring the bill will not get a public hearing.
Over the next several months we set out to engage law-enforcement on issues surrounding Cannabis prohibition. Eric Marsch and Alan Robinson met with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and discussed the strategy his office uses to lessen the strain on department resources and how community organizations can partner with them in the future to help inform Cannabis policy.
We spoke with County sheriffs and district attorneys from both large and small counties and while all of them share a concern about keeping our roads safe from impaired drivers, the general consensus is that Cannabis is the least of their problems.
This sentiment was echoed by Attorney General Josh Kaul after we met with him while seeking his support for the governor‘s position by unilaterally declining to prosecute Cannabis possession cases of 1 ounce or less in our state. He responded the next day by issuing the following statement:
“I want to make sure that our enforcement resources are targeted at activities that are causing particular harm. I certainly want to make sure we’re discouraging people who’ve used marijuana from being on the roads because that can create a real danger. But I also want to see our enforcement efforts focus on the drugs that are causing the most significant harm, things like opioids including fentanyl, and heroin and also meth. So I’d like to see that be the focus of our efforts but we also have to make sure we are keeping our roads safe and that we are encouraging people to follow the law here in Wisconsin.”
The next few months would see our organization gain attention in the media, new members, a website and changes to the team. Executive Director Alan Robinson was featured on the cover of the Isthmus, Rebecca Claeys came on as Deputy Director, Payton Foley was added as Secretary, and Joshua Karl Rosecrans was voted onto the board of directors.
This past summer two chapters from Wisconsin participated in NORML’s lobby day. Eric Marsch and Rebecca Steidl attended on behalf of the regional, Southeastern Wisconsin NORML chapter, and Alan Robinson attended on behalf of the state chapter. While there, they went through NORML leadership training and all earned NORML Leadership certificates. The trip wasn’t all slides and panels; they networked, too. They engaged with leaders from all over the country, forging connections that will allow for collaboration and coordination across the entire country.
While in our nation’s capitol, they also lobbied members of the congressional delegation from Wisconsin. They met with representative Mark Pocan, representative Gwen Moore, and staff from the offices of Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson. After their meeting, Mark Pocan signed on as a co-sponsor for the MORE Act. We won’t take credit, but we’ll count it as a win.
Other newsworthy and exciting moments in Cannabis reform include The Great Midwest Harvest Fest, The Global Marijuana March, and 420 Fest.
We worked with Representative Shelia Stubbs on legislation she introduced that would decriminalize Cannabis possession and create a path for expungement of low level Cannabis offenses. We also worked with representative David Bowen to remove the liability from companies who choose to not test their employees for Cannabis.
We worked. We marched, we advocated, we learned, we built relationships, we fought, we laughed, we cried, we dusted each other off, and we went back to work for the people of Wisconsin.