GOP support grows to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58/AP) -- The push to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin is growing. Two Republican lawmakers have introduced a new measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

State Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Sen. Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) unveiled a new bill Wednesday that would allow a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions or their primary caregivers. The proposal would only allow the medical marijuana to be used in liquid, oil, pill or extract forms, or applied topically like a lotion. Marijuana that is smoked or used in edible form could not be prescribed.

"With 33 other states leading the way on this, we can and must find a way to make this work in Wisconsin," Bernier said in a statement. "The medical marijuana program our bill establishes is highly regulated while still creating access to the relief many Wisconsinites need as they deal with continuous pain."

Democrats have tried to legalize medical marijuana for years, with little to no Republican backing. But in recent years, some Republicans have come to support loosening Wisconsin's marijuana laws.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a much broader bill earlier this year. The bill, authored by Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point) and Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), would allow patients to grow medical marijuana themselves and did not limit the ways in which they could use the drug.

Erpenbach and Taylor said in a joint statement Wednesday they're happy to see Republicans discussing legalization of medical marijuana but fear Felzkowski and Bernier's bill "could prevent sick people from getting access to the medicine they need."

Even with the GOP support, the bill faces long odds in the Senate. Republicans there have voiced more opposition to the idea than in the Assembly.

"I personally oppose this bill and I don’t believe there are the votes in our caucus to pass it," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a statement Wednesday.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has said in the past that he is open to a pill form of medical marijuana, is not saying whether he personally supports Felzkowski and Bernier's proposal.

"As someone who supports a limited form of medical marijuana, I appreciate the efforts by Rep. Felzkowski to move the issue forward. However, it’s clear that our caucus hasn’t reached a consensus," Vos said in a statement Wednesday.

Eric Marsch, executive director of Southeastern Wisconsin NORML, said the new Republican bill doesn't go as far as he would like, but he's glad to see the conversation opening up. He hopes to see a public hearing at the state Capitol.

"This(bill) will help some people, but really, we want to support a bill that will allow patients to have full plant cannabis because that will allow them to choose from the thousands of strains that are out there," Marsch said.

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