Marijuana bill gets hearing after Legislature goes home

MADISON, Wis. — A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin got a public hearing Wednesday after years of pushing by a Republican and more than a decade after the last time a medical marijuana bill got a public debate.

Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, who authored the bill, said Wednesday’s hearing will set up the legislation to be reintroduced when the Legislature is back in session next year.

“I do believe that through education and information — if we can get this bill right and work together, next session we can bring it back and potentially pass it,” she said.

The bill has little chance this session, as the Legislature has gone home for the campaign season. Felzkowski said in an interview with News 3 Now that having a hearing so late in the legislative calendar was a deal struck with legislative leadership, who have traditionally been opposed to bringing a medical marijuana bill to the floor.

The last time a medical marijuana bill had a hearing was in 2009, when Democrats controlled the state Legislature. It was introduced by then-state Rep. Mark Pocan.

“We introduced this bill four years ago, we introduced it this year, I plan on reintroducing it in January,” Felzkowski said.

During the hearing, she heard testimony from those who would benefit from medical marijuana. She said she first recognized its use when she was speaking with a doctor while she was in her own battle with stage four cancer.

“This bill will help me, this bill will help other kids like me, I deserve this,” said Nora Lowe, a 13-year-old Marinette resident who suffers from Rett Syndrome, a genetic disease that can cause seizures.

Felzkowski said having medical marijuana as another tool in doctors’ toolboxes can go a long way to helping alleviate the opioid epidemic.

“I think people really want to take some of those strong drugs, so if there’s an alternative with less side effects, I think we’ve seen our whole nation move toward more natural [remedies],” she said.

Democrats, like Sen. Melissa Agard of Madison, decried the bill as not going far enough.

“I oppose this bill, I oppose it because of the way it is drafted but I do have high hopes that we’re going to be able to work together moving forward,” she said.

Democrats are pushing for full legalization, in part due to discrepancies in the criminal justice system based on race. Wisconsin is also among a handful of Midwestern holdouts, including Iowa and Indiana, in not having any legalized marijuana.

Felzkowski said she needs to get other Republicans on board first.

“My ask of you is to not push that, this is a bill around medical access for people with these types of conditions [who need it],” she said.