Wisconsin – A Pioneer in Cannabis Legalization

AB 482 is a comprehensive collection of instructions and guidelines developed from extensive research and a conscious effort to utilize consistent language from established legislation in order to “thread the needle” and maintain a focused objective.

When was AB 482 introduced in Wisconsin?

Assembly Bill (AB) 482 was introduced on August 24, 2017, by Wisconsin State Representative Melissa Sargent and 14 of her colleagues, and co-sponsored by three (3) state senators. AB 482 aims to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult use in Wisconsin. The bill also outlines a program for patients seeking to alleviate symptoms or effects of debilitating medical conditions.  Wisconsin would find its place in history by becoming the first state to legalize both recreational use and medical use simultaneously.  AB 482 would legalize marijuana under a tax-and-regulate system similar to alcohol.  This would be another first for Wisconsin. The other 29 states and the District of Columbia with legal cannabis programs accomplished legalization through favorable support at the ballot box.

How does AB 482 effect Wisconsin residents and nonresidents?

Legal recreational use of marijuana will permit a Wisconsin resident at least 21 years of age to possess two (2) ounces of marijuana, and a non-resident at least 21 years of age to possess no more than one-quarter ounce of marijuana.  Wisconsin residents can purchase a permit and cultivate up to six (6) plants for their personal use.  The bill prohibits the sale and distribution of marijuana via the telephone, internet, or mail.  However, those looking for business opportunities in the state can purchase a permit and pay an excise tax which entitles them to produce, process, and sell recreational marijuana for profit.  A separate permit is required for each desired activity (producer, processor, retailer).  Each permit will cost an individual $250 and is valid for one year. Permits may be renewed unless the Department of Health Services (DHS) revokes or suspends a permit prior to expiration.

What does a “qualifying patient” mean in Wisconsin?

“Medical use of tetrahydrocannabinols” is permitted for Wisconsin residents that meet the criteria of a “qualifying patient”.  A qualified patient is one that has been diagnosed by a physician licensed under Wisconsin Statutes and Annotations, Section 448.04(1)(a), License to Practice Medicine and Surgery, and the person’s debilitating medical condition or treatment is listed under the terms of the bill.  AB 482 requires that the DHS maintain a registry of medical marijuana patients.  Patients must obtain a registry identification card by submitting an application and a $250 application fee to the DHS along with a written and signed authorization from their physician.

Qualified patients must receive their medicine from a Compassion Center that is operated by a licensed pharmacist.  If a patient is physically unable to acquire, possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana independently, a person’s primary caregiver or treatment team may assist with those responsibilities as long as they are at least 18 years of age.  A parent, guardian, or individual having legal custody may serve as a patient’s primary caregiver.   AB 482 defines the “maximum medicinal amount” and the amount of “usable marijuana” compassion centers can possess and distribute to patients, primary caregivers, and/or treatment teams.  Compassion centers pay an annual $5000 licensing fee, which remains valid unless revoked.  The bill instructs the DHS to deny issuance of a license and revocation of a license if a compassion center operates within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school.

Hows AB 482 regulate products in Compassion Centers?

All products sold from compassion centers must be tested for mold, fungus, and “other contaminants”.  The current iteration of the bill requires testing laboratories to collect data and conduct research related to the medical use of tetrahydrocannabinols (THCs), including potentially unsafe levels of contaminants.  Under the current version of the bill testing laboratories are to provide training to medical patients, primary caregivers, and employees of compassion centers on safe and efficient cultivation, harvesting, packaging, labeling, and distribution practices for the medical use of marijuana, and on security and inventory accountability procedures.

What about Lydia’s Law (Wisconsin Act 267)?

In April 2017, Governor Scott Walker expanded the state’s existing but limited medical cannabis law, Lydia’s Law, originally enacted in 2014.  Under Lydia’s Law, 2013 Wisconsin Act 267, patients were permitted to use cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, for the treatment of seizure disorders.  However, the law did not allow the sale or distribution of CBD within the state.  The expansion of Lydia’s Law in 2017 legally protected those in possession of CBD as long as they had written authorization from their physician.  However, it did not correct the essentially important aspect of sale and distribution.  Patients could still not obtain their medication legally.  Together with Assembly Bill 158 and Senate Bill 104, introduced by the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to provide a licensure program for producers of cannabidiol, AB 482 corrects the shortcomings of Lydia’s Law and will make cannabis, in all forms, available to patients.

Final Thoughts

One may ask why a medical cannabis program is necessary if the state is seeking a legal, recreational, adult use program. What is the point? Establishing a medical marijuana program strengthens the argument for insurance companies to recognize marijuana as medicine and provide coverage for its use.  The cost of medical cannabis varies based on a variety of factors such as quality, quantity, and competition.  It’s a recurring medical cost that most people can’t afford without the help of insurance coverage.  AB 482 requires all health insurance policies that provide coverage for prescription drugs and devices to provide coverage for the medical use of marijuana and any equipment or supplies necessary for the administration of marijuana for medical purposes. Additionally, a recreational adult use program does not assist parents seeking an alternative for their minor children suffering from debilitating medical conditions. The provisions for medical use under AB 482 provides parents access to safe, effective medicines for their children, and alleviates the constant financial burden through mandated insurance coverage.  

AB 482 is much more than just legalization of cannabis in Wisconsin.  It is an opportunity to create jobs and stimulate the economy by providing a significant tax revenue for the state.  By default, it will support Assembly Bill 409  (A409) and Senate Bill 318 (S318). These bills were introduced to reduce the penalty for possessing under 10 grams of marijuana from up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000 down to a $100 civil fine.  Wisconsin will follow suit with 22 other states that have ceased jailing individuals for possession of small amounts of marijuana.  

The majority of Wisconsin residents support ending the state prohibition on cannabis.  A July 2016 poll conducted by the Marquette Law school asked registered voters: “When it comes to marijuana, some people think that the drug should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol.  Do you agree or disagree with that view?”  Results demonstrated that 59% agreed and 39% disagreed.  

What’s Next for Wisconsin?

AB 482 was introduced to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.  The bill must pass by majority vote before it will be considered by the full State Assembly.

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