Wisconsin Leadership Wants to Have Their Cannabis and Demonize It Too

In 2016, a Marquette Law School poll found that a 59% majority of Wisconsinites support legalizing marijuana and regulating it similarly to alcohol. That was two years ago. But the current political leadership—namely Governor Scott Walker—in Wisconsin is barring access with the “gateway drug” argument despite the fact that leaders, in 2014, symbolically legalized a very limited use of CBD oil with Lydia’s Law. Prior to the passing of this law, it took three years of patients suffering from seizures to be able to legally acquire CBD.

Legal issues surrounding cannabis continue to arise despite the fact that Senate Bill 119, signed into law at the end of 2017 by Governor Walker, legalized industrial hemp farming in Wisconsin.

Unlike states such as California, Colorado, and Florida, Wisconsin does not allow ballot initiatives. Wisconsinites cannot force an initiative to legalize marijuana onto the ballot with a requisite amount of signatures like other states have done. Laws regarding cannabis can only be achieved through the legislative process.

But if a majority of Wisconsin’s citizens want to legalize marijuana, AND if elected officials are meant to represent the will of the electorate … could it be that the current leadership that seems to be picking and choosing to legalize cannabis as it alone sees fit, is on its way out in the November 2018 election?

To give a bit of a backstory, here is a brief overview of Wisconsin’s hemp history:

  • 1908—Industrial hemp began to be grown experimentally on state farms under the oversight of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station (WAES), which administers the award and management of federal grants in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
  • 1930s—This decade of “reefer madness” propaganda and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 severely limited cultivation of hemp in the U.S.
    • 1939—Wisconsin legislation prohibited the possession/use of marijuana and established a penalty with statute 161.275. The verb-laden language assured that the penalty for "growing, cultivating, mixing, compounding, having control of, preparing, possessing, using, prescribing, selling, administering or dispensing marijuana or hemp" would be one to two years in state prison.
  • 1942—The U.S. makes “Hemp for Victory” propaganda film mandatory viewing for U.S. farmers to encourage them to grow hemp for the war effort. It even reached out to Kentucky 4H kids to cultivate hemp seeds.
  • 1958—The Rens Hemp Company of Brandon, Wisconsin closes its doors. It was the last legal national hemp producer operating after the World Wars and the primary provider of hemp rope to the U.S. Navy.

Industrial Hemp Is Back

The governor’s office did not issue a press release when Governor Walker signed Senate Bill 119 on November 30, 2017, making industrial hemp legal to farm. It must have been difficult for a public figure that has stood staunchly against anything cannabis-related to admit that something about the plant was beneficial, even though it was his administration that basked in the glory of signing the Lydia’s Law bill in 2014. This bill made CBD available, but only symbolically. A caveat deferring to the FDA regulation of CBD made cannabidiol impossible to obtain for three more years.

Political leaders of the conservative variety, who typically are not motivated by the medicinal benefits of cannabis for their voting population, are, however, motivated by the commercial benefits. States where industrial hemp flourishes, absolutely increase their revenues by growing it. Taking their cue from the 2014 Farm Bill, states like Kansas and Tennessee have also decided to define industrial hemp apart from marijuana, in order to benefit from the farming and commercial potential of the plant.

Senate Bill 119 follows the federal government’s 2014 Farm Act, but is sure to articulate the strict regulations for the cultivation of industrial hemp in Wisconsin. The first two pages are a preamble that serves to demonize THC and outline how the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will rigorously regulate industrial hemp.

However, one can feel the language of legislators in favor of cannabis for medicinal purposes sneak into the last section of the bill:

SECTION 10.0 Nonstatutory provisions.

(1)  LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS. The legislature finds all of the following:

(a)  That the Cannabis sativa plant used for the production of industrial hemp

is separate and distinct from forms of Cannabis used to produce marijuana.

(b)  That section 7606 of the federal farm bill of 2014, 7 USC 5940, allows states

to establish agricultural pilot programs to study the growth, cultivation, or marketing of industrial hemp.

(c)  That industrial hemp is used in products such as building materials, textiles, cordage, fiber, food, floor coverings, fuel, paint, animal feed, paper, particle board, plastics, seed meal, cosmetics, seed, oil, and yarn.

(d)  That cannabidiol and hemp seed oil have the ability to provide relief for more maladies than medical marijuana, without psychotropic effect.

(e)  That the growth, cultivation, and processing of industrial hemp will provide an alternate crop to vitalize the agricultural sector in this state and will provide production and processing jobs.

Section (d) points to the medical benefits of CBDs and differentiates it from medical marijuana. But the road to CBD oil access was not easily be won and is still heavily restricted in Wisconsin. Lydia Schaeffer’s parents fought to make CBD oil accessible. Their seven-year-old daughter died about a month after the law symbolically allowing access to CBD passed. She was never able to take the cannabinoid that would have possibly helped her seizures.

CBD Oil Access and Lydia’s Law

In 2014, seven-year-old Lydia Schaeffer died from a rare form of epilepsy. She suffered from numerous seizures in her sleep. Her parents, along with other advocates for CBD access in Wisconsin, fought tirelessly to legalize the cannabinoid that had worked for others with seizure disorders. Lydia died in her sleep less than a month after Governor Walker signed Wisconsin Act 267. It was then re-named “Lydia’s Law.”

But, shamefully, the act had been passed with a provision that was meant to make it more palatable for lawmakersopposed to legalizing CBD because they feared it would open the door for more cannabis regulation. The provision stated that a physician prescribing CBD for a seizure patient had to obtain a special permit from the federal FDA. The program was too extensive, and physicians did not have the time or resources to comply. Thus, CBDs remained inaccessible for three more years.

Three years, and the deaths of several children later (this was admitted by one of the representatives that authored the AB 49, Rep. Scott Krug-R), Assembly Bill 49 passed and was ultimately signed into law by Governor Walker in April of 2017. The bill allowed patients possession of CBD if a physician certified it was for a medical condition (not just for seizures). The bill also required Wisconsin to follow suit if the federal government rescheduled CBD from a Schedule I drug classification.

A similar bill had failed to pass in the Senate in the previous session because some senators still feared greater legalization of medicinal marijuana. It is our hope that even the most obstinately ignorant lawmakers will come around. There is no reason why people should continue to suffer when there is a health solution right at our fingertips. CBD and it's powerful medicinal benefits are a blessing that should be taken full advantage of

Wisconsinites Want Marijuana Reform

To get an idea of how the Wisconsin Senate has squashed cannabis reform again and again since 2013 alone, here is a list of the sessions and the bills related to cannabis reform which failed in the Senate:

2013-14:  AB 810, AB 891, SB 363, and AB 480

2015-16:  AB 944, AB 995, AB 994, AB 246/SB 167, AB 945, SB 789, and AB 224

2017-18:  AB 75/ SB 38, AB 158/SB 104, AB 409/SB 318, AB 482, AB 1005

Representatives and some senators are introducing these bills because it is the will of Wisconsinites. State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) has unsuccessfully introduced bills in the last three sessions to fully legalize marijuana. She, along with many legislators, believes that marijuana does more harm illegal than legal.

One thing is certain: if Wisconsinites want to legalize marijuana medicinally or recreationally, the way is through electing legislators that will represent their will in Congress. We shall see if this happens in November.


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Schaaf, Mark. “’Lydia’s Law’ passes, but treatment still elusive.” Madison.com. 20 April 2015. Web. Accessed 1 September 2018. https://madison.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/lydia-s-law-passes-but-treatment-still-elusive-copy/article_409b06c9-fe10-5bf1-b1c1-03131101ee27.html

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Opoien, Jessie. “Wisconsin Assembly unanimously approves bill to ease access to CBD oil.” The Capital Times. 7 March 2017. Web. Accessed 1 September 2018. https://madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/election-matters/wisconsin-assembly-unanimously-approves-bill-to-ease-access-to-cbd/article_3483a15c-2667-5a3c-a7bf-40dd7a544ef1.htm

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