Republican leader opposes medical marijuana, puts legislation at risk

NOW: Republican leader opposes medical marijuana, puts legislation at risk

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Republican leader of the State Senate quashed the idea of legalizing marijuana, including for medicinal use this legislative session. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) tells CBS 58 since it’s still illegal at the federal government, he’s not open to legalizing marijuana in any form. 

“If the FDA approves it, I would be open to it, but at this point, the federal government hasn’t done that,” LeMahieu said. 

Governor Tony Evers included legalizing marijuana for recreational use in his state budget, but it was immediately met with GOP opposition. Republican co-chairs of the state’s budget committee also said they would be removing that provision from the budget. 

The push to legalize medical marijuana over the last few years has grown, especially among Republicans, but the indication from the GOP leader means any proposals to legalize marijuana likely won’t be welcomed in his chamber.  

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) expressed last year he’d support medical marijuana if it was supplied and regulated more like a prescription painkiller.

LeMehiue said he could only see himself supporting marijuana use for medical purposes if there was strict enforcement, but reiterated concerns that the federal government currently classifies cannabis as a substance 1 drug.

“I’ve heard concerns from businesses from law enforcement groups that it probably isn't a good idea to legalize it,” he said. 

It was unknown until now about LeMahieu's views on marijuana, as many Democrats had hoped he might support the idea after the previous leader of the Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, who left for Congress, rejected proposals to legalize medical marijuana. 

“Wisconsin needs to stop being afraid,” said Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) who’s championed legislation for years to legalize cannabis. “It is really disappointing and quite frustrating and heartbreaking to many of my consultants, and many people that call Wisconsin home, that my Republican colleagues continue to be defiant to hear the voices of the people of our communities.”

Polling from Marquette University Law School in 2019 found 59% of voters believe marijuana use should be legal, 83% support legalizing marijuana for medical use. 

Other Republicans, Sen. Mary Felzcowski and Sen. Patrick Testin, also support medical marijuana. 

Sen. Felzkowski (R-Irma), a two-time cancer survivor, told CBS 58 earlier this month it’s her goal to get a committee hearing on her bill she is currently drafting to legalize medical marijuana, and hoping for the best outcome. 

“It’s early in the session and I look forward to working with all stakeholders to move our state in the direction of medical marijuana,” Felzkowski said. 

Eric Marsh, of Wisconsin Cannabis Activist Network, also formally known as NORML, said it’s disappointing LeMahieu is not open to legalization efforts since it does have GOP support. 

“To say the bill is dead in the water is basically to say the Republican leadership doesn’t care about this issue,” said Marsh. “We had high hopes when Fitzgerald left for Congress because he was a staunch opponent as well, and we were hoping Republicans would pick someone more reasonable on this issue.”

Thirty-six states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana, including neighboring states Michigan and Illinois. 

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