MADISON: Rep. Mark Pocan’s office has confirmed a final total of 15 cosponsors for the newly reintroduced Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (JRMMA).
As with last session and the 2007-2008 session there were no Republican cosponsors. The last bill with Republican support, AB-740, was introduced in 2005 by then Rep. Gregg Underheim, a moderate Republican from Oshkosh who chaired the Assembly Public Health committee. Rep. Underheim gave AB-740 a public hearing in Nov. 2005. Underheim, a one-time opponent of medical cannabis opened up to the medical potential of cannabis after suffering a bout with cancer. He left the legislature in 2006.
13 of 15 cosponsors are from the 99-member Wisconsin State Assembly: Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), Reps Terese Berceau (D-Madison), Janet Bewley (D-Ashland), Elizabeth Coggs (D-Milwaukee), Chris Danou (D- Trempealeau) Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison), Chris Taylor, Rep. Barbara Toles (D-Milwaukee) and Josh Zepnick (D- Milwaukee). In the 33-member State Senate, JRMMA sponsor Sen. Jon Erpenbach is joined by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee).
While Republicans again stayed off the bill as a block, 15 of the 55 member Democratic caucus represents a strong level of support. at 27%. Advocates say that if the 78-member GOP caucus were represented at the same level of support, there would be 21 Republican cosponsors. But politics once again is keeping medical cannabis from those in need.
The next step for the two bills, currently dubbed LRB 2466 and LRB 3544, is official Senate and Assembly bill numbers and assignment to committees in each house. With Republicans in control and chairing all committees, the JRMMA might find itself in the Senate Health committee of arch medical cannabis opponent and former Assembly representative, now Senator, Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa). The other Senate Health committee is chaired by Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), a breast cancer surgeon. Galloway was elected in Nov. 2010 and had previously relocated to Wisconsin in 2003 after her physician husband, a gastroenterologist, accepted a position in Wausau.
In the Assembly, the JRMMA could end up in the Assembly Health committee, chaired by Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale). Another possibility is the Committee on Public Health and Public Safety chaired by yet another anti-medical cannabis zealot, Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay). Bies sponsored the synthetic cannabinoid bill passed into law earlier in 2011 in Wisconsin. It is also not a given that the bills will even be assigned to a Health committee.
Once the bills have a committee assignment, it will be up to the respective committee chair on whether to schedule a public hearing. In the 2009-2010 session, an 8-plus hour combined health committee public hearing was held on Dec. 15, 2009. Sen. Erpenbach, a cosponsor, then chaired the Senate Health committee. If a hearing were held this session it would be under vastly different, perhaps very hostile, conditions. This comes despite overwhelming public support from constituents as evidenced by open records requests along with consistent polling in the 75-80% range.
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