70% of Wisconsin State Senators sponsor cannabis-related bills in 2017

Posted: May 17, 2017 by Gary Storck
Category: Politics

Updated 2017-05-30 5:46:39 PM So far in the 2017-2018 session, 24 of 33 Wisconsin state senators have sponsored or cosponsored at least one cannabis-related bill. Of the 9 senators who have not signed on to any cannabis-related legislation, all are Republicans, who hold the majority with 20 seats. Up until May 30, the group included one Democrat, 90-year old Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison). Although representing a large chunk of Madison, arguably one of the most supportive districts for pot law reform in the state, Risser, the longest-serving state legislator in the nation, had last sponsored cannabis-related legislation 38 years ago in 1979. But on May 30, Sen. Risser announced he was a sponsor of Rep. Adam Jarchow's decriminalization bill along with Reps. Evan Goyke and Jonathan Brostoff. Cannabadger first broke the news of Rep. Jarchow's plans to sponsor a decriminalization bill earlier this year.

So, as of May 30, every Democratic senator has sponsored or cosponsored cannabis-related legislation. Definitely a landmark year after so many years where support only came from the Assembly. And it's a huge step for Risser who had previously cited his opposition to smoking as reason for not sponsoring pot bills. I have called him out a few times and he told me in 2000 "there were a hundred bills more important to him than medical marijuana," so it's great to see him finally listening to his district and doing the right thing.

But, as the chart below shows, Republicans are increasingly likely to sign on to cannabis-related bills, and Democrats who opted out in the past are now supportive. While completely avoiding Democratic-sponsored medical cannabis and CBD production legislation, Republicans sponsored bipartisan CBD legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, as well as a bipartisan industrial hemp bill, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), one of the most conservative members of the Senate and newly-minted Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point), who defeated anti-medical cannabis zealot Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) in Nov. 2016, a dyed in the wool Cannabigot throughout her tenure.

Chart-Wisconsin Senate Cannabis-related bills sponsored 2017-2018 session

Here is the breakdown by number of bills sponsored or cosponsored:

Five Bills: (2/33) Vinehout, C. Larson

Four Bills: (2/33) Taylor, L., Hansen

Three Bills: (3/33) Shilling, Johnson, Erpenbach

Two Bills: (10/33) Wirch, Testin, Ringhand, Olsen, Miller, Lasee, Feyen, Craig, Carpenter, Bewley

One Bills: (7/33) Wanggaard, Tiffany, Roth, Moulton, Marklein, Harsdorf, Risser (as of May 30, 2017)

Zero Bills: (9/33) Vukmir, Stroebel, Petrowski, Nass, LeMahieu, Kapenga, Fitzgerald, Darling, Cowles

With at least a couple more cannabis-related bills still to be introduced this session, these numbers will increase. With Republicans softening even on medical cannabis, the biggest obstacle to broader cannabis law reform remains Gov. Scott Walker, who recently indicated he will be seeking another 4-year term in 2018.

This letter to the editor from 1999 shows how far cannabis law reform has come. In 1999, zero senators from either party supported any bills. In 2017 23 of 33 and every Democrat but Fred Risser is a sponsor/cosponsor of at least one bill.