A top Republican lawmaker in Wisconsin indicated on Monday that cannabis legalization is likely inevitable in the Badger State.
Jim Steineke, the majority leader in the GOP-controlled state assembly, said in an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio that the state could end pot prohibition “at some point.”
“Recreational marijuana, I think, has a much tougher path to get through the legislature and eventually signed into law, but I do think we’re heading in that direction,” Steineke said.
Steineke told Wisconsin Public Radio that he supports medical cannabis, but his fellow Republicans––who control both chambers of the Wisconsin legislature––have been less eager to embrace recreational pot than their Democratic colleagues.
Steineke added that the biggest hurdle for his colleagues in crafting legislation is “trying to write language that’s tight enough to just keep it to the medicinal purposes.”
While hardly an emphatic endorsement of legalization, Steineke’s comments signal slightly more openness among Republicans toward the law change.
Last year, Steineke’s fellow Republican, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMathieu dismissed the likelihood of legalization.
“We don’t have support from the caucus. That’s pretty clear, that we don’t have 17 votes in the caucus for medicinal purposes or recreational purposes [to] legalize it,” LeMathieu said at the time.
Wisconsin represents one of the last remaining holdout states in the country, with neither recreational nor medicinal cannabis legal there.
Polls show that a majority of Wisconsinites, as with much of the country, supports legalizing cannabis, something Democrats have cited in their push for reform.
Last year, Democratic state Senator Melissa Agard introduced a bill to legalize cannabis there.
“Not only will this proposal allow our state to right past wrongs, it will also open countless doors to our farmers and agricultural sector to participate in a growing industry,” Agard said at the time.
Agard also said, “Wisconsin can no longer ignore the cannabis industry—we are losing out on millions of dollars and family sustaining jobs to our neighboring states. Wisconsin is an island of prohibition. Prohibition has not worked when it comes to alcohol. It did not work with margarine, and it’s not working when it comes to cannabis.”
“Not only will this proposal allow our state to right past wrongs, it will also open countless doors to our farmers and agricultural sector to participate in a growing industry,” Agard continued.
The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, has also voiced strong support for making both medical and recreational cannabis legal.
“The majority of Wisconsinites agree: it’s time our state legalized marijuana,” Evers said on Twitter last year. “In my #BadgerBounceback agenda, I’m calling for our state to join states across the nation in legalizing marijuana—a step that would generate more than $165M annually starting in 2023.”
Last month, Evers vetoed a bill passed by Republicans that would have resulted in stiffer new penalties for some cannabis convictions.
The governor, who won election narrowly in 2018, said that he rejected the proposal “in its entirety because I object to creating additional criminal offenses or penalties related to marijuana use.”
“It is widely accepted, and, indeed, research over the course of the last decade confirms, that marijuana criminalization has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially in Wisconsin where there are long-standing racial disparities in incarceration rates,” Evers said in his veto statement.
“State 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,” the governor continued regarding the issue. “The data and the science are clear on this issue, and I welcome the legislature to start having meaningful conversations around justice reform in Wisconsin.”