Despite having the pedigree for raising hemp, cannabis is still technically illegal in Wisconsin. While there are select counties like Madison where small amounts are legal, the state still doesn’t have a full-fledged marijuana industry catering to medical and recreational users.
It took a pandemic to make most states consider legalization as a way to recharge depleted funds and this may be the same case with the Badger State. Earlier this month, Gov. Tony Evers revealed that the legalization of medical marijuana will be part of his 2021-2023 biennial budget proposal. The governor had previously introduced such a proposal but was shot down by Republican lawmakers. However, the time seems to be ripe this year since both parties are likely not to say no to an estimated $165 million in annual sales from the marijuana industry at a time when the state really needs it.
More importantly though, the legalizing medical cannabis will also create more jobs, reduce criminal justice system costs, and those suffering from chronic or debilitating pain and illness to safe and effective medication, according to Evers.
The governor’s proposal will set the legal age at 21 for recreational use and 18 for medical use. Residents will be allowed to possess a maximum of 2 ounces and cultivate up to six plants for personal use. However, out-of-state residents can only possess up to a quarter of an ounce.
Republicans of the state recently offered a much tamer concession in the form of a decriminalization bill. SB 164, introduced by Sen. Kathy Bernier, seeks to reduce penalties for possession of up to 10 grams to only $100 without any jail time.
Overview of Wisconsin Marijuana Laws
The progress of marijuana reform in the Badger State is unlike in other states where legalization happens statewide. Several counties have already decriminalized and even legalized recreational use, the most recent one being Madison which voted last year to approve legislation allowing adults 18 and older to possess and use up to 28 grams even in public.
- Possession – In all other areas that did not decriminalize or legalize marijuana, possession of any amount on the first offense is a misdemeanor that gets a prison sentence of up to 6 months and/or a fine of $1000. Subsequent offenses are considered a felony that gets a prison sentence of 3 and a half years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- Sale/Cultivation – Selling or growing marijuana in Wisconsin is a felony and get the same penalties.
- Up to 200 grams or up to 4 plants – up to 3 and a half years jail time and/or up to $10,000 fine.
- Between 200 and 1000 grams or 5 to 12 plants – up to 6 years jail time and/or up to $10,000 fine.
- Between 1000 and 2500 grams or 21 to 50 plants – up to 10 years jail time and/or up to $25,000 fine.
- Between 2500 and 10,000 grams or 51 to 200 plants – up to 12 and a half years jail time and/or up to $25,000 fine.
- Over 10000 grams or more than 200 plants – up to 15 years jail time and/or up to $25,000 fine.
History of Marijuana in Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s history with cannabis dates back to around 1908 when the government started growing hemp for fiber. The state became the nation’s biggest hemp producer around the 30s and 40s when the US military’s demand for hemp fiber went up during WWII. However, all this came to an end due to the prohibition with the last commercial crop of hemp fiber produced in 1957.
Surprisingly, one of the first moves to legalize came as early as 1969 when Rep. Lloyd Barbee of Milwaukee introduced AB 1023 in 1969 which sought to legalize possession and sales. Barbee also introduced AB 23, a decriminalization bill in 1971 but both failed to get any traction.
For decades, various proposals for statewide legalization were shut down. Some of the notable efforts were the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act in 2009 which failed to get past the Legislature to Gov. Jim Doyle who supported the bill. Likewise, bills that sought to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, submitted by Rep. Melissa Sargent in 2013, 2015, and 2017, all failed to get support supposedly due to the opposition of Republicans, particularly Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
While other states were already busy legalizing recreational use, patients in Wisconsin suffering from seizures and other disorders only got Act 267 in 2014. Also called “Lydia’s Law”, Assembly Bill 726 only allowed CBD oil that must be FDA-approved, which basically prevented doctors from prescribing it. Even with an amendment in 2015 that legalized possession of CBD oil, there was still no viable way for patients to make or obtain it. It took until 2017 for a proper CBD law, SB 10, to get approved. Finally in March of that year, AB 49/SB 10 got signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker.
While a strong opposition prevailed in the legislature, marijuana reform in Wisconsin’s counties seemed to show a more accurate reflection of the attitude of the residents. Madison has historically leaned in favor of marijuana where as early as 1977, voters allowed possession of up to 112 grams of cannabis in a private area. Meanwhile, those who want to carry in public would only need to be under a doctor’s care to avoid a $109 fine.
In Milwaukee, Mayor John Norquist signed a bill that decriminalized first-time possession of up to 25 grams, punishable only by a fine of $250 to $500 or jail time of up to 20 days. Offenders could also opt to do community service or take drug education classes. In 2015, penalties for possession of up to 25 grams were reduced even further to a $50 fine. In 2018, Eau Claire set the penalty for first-time possession of the same amount even lower at $1. Meanwhile, both medical and recreational cannabis in the Menominee Indian Reservation has been legal since 2015.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Wisconsin
How do Wisconsin marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Wisconsin
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Wisconsin.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Wisconsin.
No, medical cannabis is still illegal in Wisconsin.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tony Evers revealed that the legalization of medical marijuana will be part of his 2021-2023 biennial budget proposal. The governor had previously introduced such a proposal but was shot down by Republican lawmakers.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Wisconsin.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Wisconsin.
Growing marijuana in Wisconsin is strictly illegal for residents of all ages.
Based on Wisconsin’s history with weed, it seems likely that legalization of at least medical marijuana could happen this year. It is clear that Wisconsinians want legalization as evidenced by rules in a number of counties and particularly by the approval of as many as eleven counties of the non-binding referendums expressing support for legalizing medical cannabis and six counties for legalization of recreational cannabis in 2018. With the push from the state’s governor, pressure to rake in tax money due to the pandemic, and impending federal legalization, Wisconsin’s marijuana opponents’ only choices would be to concede this year or the next.