Badgerland and Medical Marijuana: Finally Together?

Patrick McCorkle
3 min readJan 26, 2024

Wisconsin Republicans have a New Years Resolution regarding the Devil’s Lettuce, aka marijuana.

On January 8th, a few Assembly members introduced a bill for the legalization of medical marijuana.

My initial reaction is encouragement, as the GOP of 10–20 years ago wouldn’t consider this. Back then, we didn’t know as much about the effects of marijuana, so that hesitancy made more sense. With more data available, that kind of rigid thinking doesn’t hold up. Most states agree, as 38/50 allow for some kind of medical marijuana.

The bill’s sponsors don’t want to monetize medicine, so medical marijuana will not be taxed to avoid driving up costs. That does make sense, though I wonder if taxes could be funneled towards specific medical programs such as BadgerCare to reduce their financial burden.

Despite the positives, the plan has issues. Senate Majority Leader Robin Voss stated that Republicans do not want medicine marijuana to become an “end-around” way of legalizing recreational marijuana, so who knows how that will screw up negotiations. State Democrats have pushed for legalization of medicinal and recreational use, so it’s unlikely they would be happy with this compromise for long.

Public policy analyst Libertarian Jew concluded last year that both the medical effects and the drawbacks surrounding recreational marijuana are overblown, so “we should err on the side of freedom, and let people smoke their weed in the land of the Free.”

I won’t elaborate further, except to say that I agree.

The GOP bill is highly restrictive.

1. There are only 15 eligible conditions.

Some notable omissions include Parkinson’s disease, obsessive compulsive disorder and lupus. Minnesota allows slightly more. 50 conditions qualify in Illinois. The small list might complicated negotiations in Wisconsin.

2. The state would oversee distribution at five facilities, at to be determined locations.

Wisconsin Republicans want to become the first in the nation to have state distribution of medical marijuana. That seems unnecessary and costly, given that other states have successfully utilized private partners.

State distribution raises multiple questions.

Where will these five dispensaries go?

What will the tax burden be?

How much will they be utilized considering the marijuana laws of Wisconsin’s border states?

Last year, the Wisconsin Policy Forum stated that “50% of Wisconsinites of legal age (about 2.16 million individuals) can drive to a recreational dispensary, including all residents of major cities like Milwaukee or Madison, within 75 minutes.”

Michigan and Illinois only legalized marijuana in 2018 and 2019, so these figures are even more impressive considering the limited window of legality.

What will the marijuana legalization framework look like in 5–10 years? Once the state run marijuana dispensaries are up and running, will it even matter because an overwhelming majority of Wisconsin adults can reach a dispensary in little over an hour?

It’s worth noting that Republicans are suggesting legalizing medical marijuana in an election year, after a couple of solid trouncings in the state Supreme Court and gubernatorial races.

My cynical half views the bill as a short-term vote grab that could be used as “see, we tried, but it didn’t work” before dismantling the dispensaries.

My optimistic half thinks that the Republicans realize their values on this issue aren’t the same as their constituents. It’s common to criticize politicians when they shift positions. However, when they shift to better reflect the voters, that is evidence our democratic republic is working.

At this point, I’d say Republicans would have consider the following modifications:

1. Letting a private partner handle distribution.

2. Increasing the number of dispensaries.

3. Widening the list of accepted conditions.

4. Taxing sales to provide for other programs.

Otherwise, medical marijuana will remain a boogeyman in Badgerland.

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.