Wisconsinites are already using medical marijuana - just without the government's blessing.
Sen. Patty Schachtner said it's not uncommon for end-of-life patients in her western Wisconsin district to have medical marijuana in their system. She said she witnesses it through her job as St. Croix County's medical examiner.
"We know that we have medical marijuana here already because of access to Minnesota," the District 10 Democrat said.
Minnesota's Department of Health says it has no one on its rolls from Wisconsin being prescribed medical marijuana. State law requires medical cannabis patients to be Minnesota residents.
Whether it's legally prescribed or not is another matter, but Schachtner said the patients aren't buying dime bags on the street.
"They're not smoking joints," she said. "They have access to medical marijuana in the way that medical marijuana is prescribed."
Schachtner said she doesn't ask how they get it.
"Do I know what's on their billing address? No," she said. "That could be a loophole."
Minnesota's health department notes that while patients must prove residency, registered caregivers are not required to prove Minnesota residency.
Schachtner says Wisconsin needs to decide if it's fair that people living close to the Minnesota border have gained access to medical marijuana when other Wisconsinites don't.
"We're just going to block medical marijuana altogether when we know that as residents of western Wisconsin and District 10 that we have access to it already?" she said Friday.
The question is among many looming over the Legislature after Gov. Tony Evers announced Feb. 18 that he is seeking to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.
The Democratic governor's proposal also calls for expungement of possession-related marijuana offenses after completion of sentences or probation.
Bipartisan, if not unanimous, support
The proposal faces an uphill battle in the Legislature, where Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said that while he's been open to medical marijuana, he signaled he wouldn't back a measure connected to decriminalization.
"It makes it easier to get recreational marijuana and provides a pathway to full legalization, which I do not support," the Republican lawmaker said.
Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, said he backed a measure from former legislator Adam Jarchow to legalize recreational pot and that he still supports that concept.
"I have no problem with it," he said, adding that pursuing low-level marijuana offenses is "not always the best use of resources for folks."
Rep. Shannon Zimmerman said he was less certain on decriminalization of small amounts. He said he's spoken with lawmakers from Colorado and Washington, two states that have since legalized recreational marijuana.
"It's a mixed bag," the River Falls Republican said of the lawmakers' input, adding that he's "eager to hear more about what the governor's thinking."
Stafsholt said he's still not sure about medical marijuana, though other lawmakers said they're comfortable with it.
Zimmerman said he supports it.
"It's no different than any other drug a physician may prescribe," he said.
Schachtner agreed, saying preconceived notions of marijuana use should be shed, at least in the realm of medical marijuana.
"It's a plant," she said. "Let's have a real evidence-based conversation."
Stafsholt said he wants questions answered before he makes up his mind on medical marijuana. He said if the prescribed pot is to be smoked, he wants to learn how dosages are determined.
Are patients being prescribed enough to treat their condition? Are they being prescribed too much?
"There's just a lot of questions to me about the (regulation) of it as to how it works," he said.
As Wisconsin takes a closer look at medical marijuana, Zimmerman said he will take note of efforts to stick a tax on dosages. He said he doesn't want taxes to price out low-income people in need of the drug.
"Money should not be a consideration when we look at legalizing it for medical purposes," he said.
Schachtner didn't indicate support either way for Evers' larger pot package, but said medical marijuana seems like a reasonable starting point. She said that should be an option, especially for hospice care patients who could conceivably manage pain under a marijuana treatment rather than lose consciousness under heavy opioids.
"When you peel back the onion to the part that makes you cry, these are the things that are real," she said.
Even while he studies the issue, Stafsholt said he'd prefer to see medical marijuana as standalone legislation, rather than tucked into the larger budget bill. He said that could make it more politically palatable for some legislators.
"I think there's some bipartisanship there," he said.