By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Medical marijuana will not become legal in Wisconsin next year or anytime soon, despite broadening support, the state Assembly’s top Republican — himself an advocate for legalization — said Thursday.
“It’s going to take a while,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday. Finding consensus on the issue is difficult because of varied concerns from other Republicans, law-enforcement officials and medical professionals, Vos said.
“It’s not like it’s a panacea that everybody thinks, ‘Oh, jeez this is an easy slam dunk,'” Vos said. “It’s a complicated issue that we want to get right.”
Vos said he believes progress is being made, noting that support has grown among Assembly Republicans from once consisting of him and one other lawmaker to now almost half of the 63-member GOP caucus. However, Senate Republicans remain opponents. A bill must pass the Senate and Assembly and be signed by the governor before becoming law.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers supports legalizing medical marijuana.
Vos has supported medical marijuana for years and taken part in bipartisan efforts to change the law this year.
Vos defended not being able to get a bill passed despite his support.
“There’s nobody who can say I’m not in favor of this idea,” Vos said. But putting together the support needed to pass a bill takes time, he said.
Democrats have long supported legalizing medical marijuana. Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Gordon Hintz accused Vos of offering token support, saying he only speaks in favor of it because polls show a majority of Wisconsin voters are for it.
“There seems to be at least the recognition of members about how out of touch they are with where the public is and where good public policy is,” Hintz said in an interview this week.
For about four years, Vos has supported the limited legalization of medical marijuana. He would make it available only for chronic medical conditions through a tightly controlled network of providers that would be regulated by the state. He is opposed to allowing medical marijuana to be smoked.
In 2018, 16 counties and two Wisconsin cities, home to 52% of the state’s population, approved non-binding referendums in support of legalizing either medical or recreational marijuana. A Marquette University Law School poll in April showed 83% of the respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana and 59% backed full legalization.
The latest bill, introduced earlier this month, comes from Republican Rep. Mary Felzkowski, a cancer survivor, and Republican Sen. Kathy Bernier. Felzkowski said her goal was simply to have a hearing on the bill, which would mark the first time such a measure has ever gotten that far in the process.
Vos said Democrats would have turned such a hearing into a “political circus.”
“I want this to become law but people have to trust that it’s going to be a deliberate process, it’s going to take a while,” Vos said. “We’ve got to convince people that it’s the right idea and eventually it will become law.”
Wisconsin is an island on pot legalization. Neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois are among 33 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and 11 states, including Michigan and Illinois, have legalized it for recreational purposes.