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Wisconsin governor announces proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession, legalize medical use

“People shouldn't be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately needed medication that can alleviate their suffering," the governor said.
Image: Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the Governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol on Jan. 22, 2019, in Madison, Wisconsin.Andy Manis / AP file

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Monday proposed overhauling the state's marijuana laws to make the drug's medical use legal, decriminalize possession and align the state's laws on CBD oil with federal standards.

In a press conference outlining his state budget, the governor indicated it was time for Wisconsin to join the more than two dozen states that have legalized medical marijuana and ensured residents have access to CBD oil.

"As a cancer survivor, I know the side effects of a major illness can make everyday tasks a challenge,” the governor said. “People shouldn't be treated as criminals for accessing a desperately-needed medication that can alleviate their suffering."

But Evers also made it clear that this proposal is not strictly to respond to health care concerns. He also pointed to the inequities in the arrests of minorities for drug-related crimes.

“Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men, and drug-related crimes account for as many as 75-85 percent of all inmates in our prisons,” Evers said in a press release.

In his proposal, the governor also laid out his plan to decriminalize the possession, production or distribution of marijuana of amounts of 25 grams or less. The proposal would also expunge the records of individuals already convicted for violations under that amount who have served their sentences or probations.

This specific language was established to prevent law enforcement agencies in the state from creating their own ordinances or penalties.

"Too many people, often persons of color, spend time in our criminal justice system just for possessing small amounts of marijuana,” Evers said. “That doesn't make our communities stronger or safer."

The governor also said he wants to align the state’s laws on cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, with federal standards. The current state’s laws require a physician to give a yearly certification for families to get access to CBD oil.

The oil, which comes from hemp and marijuana plants, is believed by some to help alleviate anxiety and assist in pain management.

Only 14 states have enacted CBD-explicit medical laws, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

President Donald Trump paved the way for the trendy oil after he signed a farm bill in December — removing industrial hemp from a list of federally controlled substances. This legislation became a major step in pushing the oil into mainstream use.

Although the CBD oil industry has boomed, some states are pushing back. The New York City Department of Health recently announced a plan to start fining companies that continue to offer foods or drinks containing cannabidiol.

CORRECTION (Feb. 19, 2019, 7:19 ET): An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the states that have relaxed laws related to CBD. Fourteen states have reformed their laws with regard to CBD oil and an additional 33 states have passed medical marijuana laws. The 14 states are not part of the group of 33 states.