Schmidt supports Republicans’ medical cannabis bill

Felzkowski has reservations about distribution coming from government vs. private sector
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Legislation that would legalize medical cannabis was brought forth by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, but with a lot of restrictions that make the measure different from ones other states have passed.

Smokeable cannabis for medicinal uses would not be allowed under the law, and the cannabis would only be available at five locations in Wisconsin run by the state. The medical cannabis would only be distributed to severely ill people with chronic diseases like cancer, and a doctor’s diagnosis would be required, as well as a $100 fee to get into the program.

Rep. Peter Schmidt, R-Bonduel, stressed that the Republicans are not seeking to legalize marijuana, which he defined as the smokeable variety, but instead the cannabis that can be distributed by other methods, including gummies, concentrates, oils, tinctures and pills.

“That’s where some of the confusion is,” Schmidt said during a phone interview Jan. 12. “The media is always saying its medical marijuana, and this bill is focusing on the cannabis part. When people think of the word ‘marijuana,’ they’re thinking recreational or the smoking of it. We’re focusing on the medical properties of cannabis.”

Thirty-eight states have legalized medical marijuana and 24 have legalized recreational marijuana. Schmidt noted that Wisconsin’s bill will be the first where the state runs the distribution instead of the private sector. He said the Republicans decided to go that route because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, defined as a Schedule 1 substance.

“A lot of the people don’t understand that if we allow private pharmacies disperse the medical cannabis, they can get sued or taken to federal court,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want that.”

Having it state run means there won’t be state sales tax charged to people who get a prescription, according to Schmidt.

“Medicine should not cost an arm and a leg, and it should not be profits over the patient,” he said.

The requirements include patients being at least 18 years old, and caregivers have to be at least 21 years old, Schmidt said. Patients can have up to three caregivers designated to get the prescriptions if they are physically unable to travel to the distribution sites, locations still to be determined, to pick up the cannabis. The state will be selling it at cost, he noted.

“We’re not making money,” Schmidt said. “Other states allow private businesses in the medical cannabis, and then they profit it and have a sales tax, and that encourages people to cut corners.”

Schmidt noted that there have been signs in both the Trump and Biden administrations that the federal government might someday legalize marijuana or allow states the choice to decide, but it’s uncertain if Wisconsin Republicans would allow full legalization.

“I can see in the future that it will eventually be removed,” Schmidt said. “When you have a substance with a federal ban, you can’t do research, so how can you understand these substances? By not legalizing drugs, you can’t legally research and develop cures for opioids and stuff. That’s why constituents in my district were forced to take opioids or break the law to get medical cannabis. With this bill, it will get more people away from addictive opioids.”

The bill also requires the state to get its cannabis from growers within Wisconsin, but the price will be steep for those who want to make the endeavor. Schmidt said getting a growing license from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will cost $10,000, and renewing one will come with a $50,000 price tag.

“That was an area where it was hard to find support, because it was all over the place,” Schmidt said. “This will make sure it’s grown in our state. You have to go through DATCP, and you have to pass a background check. You can’t be convicted of a crime; it has to be at least 10 years. It’s going to be really strict of who can grow it.”

Gov. Tony Evers expressed public support for the proposal in the state and national media, even though he prefers legalizing marijuana for full medical and recreational use. However, Schmidt said Evers’ support is wavering because of all the restrictions coming out.

“To me, I don’t think a lot of the people are all the way there (with legalizing recreational marijuana),” Evers said. “Other states have seen an increase in crime and abuse of the marijuana plants. (Evers) is lukewarm on it now because of the cost to get a permit and stuff. The penalties are very high, as well.”

Schmidt is expecting the state will have about 50,000 patients will apply.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Schmidt said. “The governor, I know, wants more, but you’ve got to look at the big picture.”

Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Tomahawk, has previously crafted legislation for medical cannabis and tried for four consecutive legislative sessions to push it through. She declined to speak with NEW Media about the legislation and the need for medical cannabis in Wisconsin, but her office submitted a written statement from the senator announcing she was still reading through the bill.

“I commend Assembly Republicans for introducing this legislation, and welcome the renewed attention towards providing ailing Wisconsinites with access to this medication,” Felzkowski said in the press release.

Felzkowski, whose district includes Menominee County and parts of Oconto County and Shawano County, said that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his workgroup reached out to her “and ran me through their general proposal at a 10,000-foot view.”

“While some concepts in the bill sound incredibly well thought out, my concerns with several provisions, most notably the choice to require the state to directly dispense medical marijuana, instead of going the route of a proven, private-sector model of delivering this care, led to my decision to remain uninvolved in this particular legislation,” Felzkowski said. “I am a firm believer that private entities, run by those with expertise in this area of medicine, are more efficient and more effective than any government agency. Taking this option off the table is the primary cause of my unease at this time.”

Despite her reservations, Felzkowski feels the fact that her fellow Republicans in the Assembly are moving the needle forward is a good thing.

“Any progress towards providing those in need with access to medical cannabis is something to be celebrated,” she said.

Rep. Calvin Callahan, R-Tomahawk, whose district includes the northwest segment of Shawano County, said he would not be supporting the bill at all, saying he’s siding with law enforcement agencies that have expressed concerns.

“I am in frequent communication with our local law enforcement in communities around the district, and this is not something they support,” Callahan said in his weekly email update. “I will continue to back our men and women in blue, and will not be supporting my colleagues’ proposal.”