Updated on January 30, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
As legislation changes in Wisconsin, check back to this section for information about how those legislative changes will affect the prospect of medical marijuana in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin medical marijuana program is even more restrictive than other states with programs that could be best described as “limited.” Only patients suffering from epilepsy are allowed to use cannabidiol (CBD) oil, but the CBD can’t contain any psychoactive component. However, in addition to being restrictive, the law is also unworkable. Epileptic patients will only be able to obtain CBD from pharmacies or doctors when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows them to do so — and that will only happen if the federal government reclassifies marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
There’s a good chance that you’re asking yourself, “What’s the point?” That would be a fair question. It’s basically as if there is no program for medical marijuana in Wisconsin at all. Unless the federal government shocks everyone by taking weed off of the list of controlled substances, seriously ill patients in Wisconsin will have very few alternatives. They’ll either have to turn to powerful medications to ease their suffering — medications that can not only be addictive, but that can also lead to devastating side effects — or go to another state where CBD oil is legal and obtainable. But even then, they’d risk committing a federal crime if they brought the oil across state lines.
Wisconsin law does allow a patient to possess CBD as long as he or she has a written certificate from a physician. But going to another state to obtain it can be an extreme burden.
The law, for what it’s worth, is very unclear when it comes to THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. While it states that patients can use CBD that doesn’t contain psychoactive components, it doesn’t state if CBD that contains trace amounts of THC is allowable under the law. What is clear that only epileptic seizure sufferers can legally possess CBD, and they comprise a tiny fraction of the number of people in the state who are suffering from severe illnesses.
Even though Democrats have largely been credited for trying to create a sensible medical marijuana program in Wisconsin, there have also been efforts from Republicans to move the issue forward. In February 2017, the speaker of the state Assembly, a Republican, said he was open to considering the legalization of medical cannabis.
One piece of proposed legislation would make medical cannabis legal, while the other would take the issue to voters through the creation of a referendum. The legalization bill would allow patients suffering from a variety of illnesses to possess three ounces of weed as well as a maximum of 12 plants in their home.
It would also lead to the creation of state-licensed dispensaries. There was yet another bill being considered that would make it easier for parents of children suffering from epileptic seizures to obtain CBD oil.
Yet another bill, known as the “right-to-try” bill, would allow patients suffering from terminal illnesses to bypass the FDA’s approval process and gain access to experimental medications such as marijuana. Critics of the bill, however, contend that it would not require insurance companies to pay for these therapies, nor would it require drug makers to supply experimental medications. Some doctors are also concerned that many patients would opt for experimental drugs rather than participate in clinical trials. These trials, they say, are critically important to advancements in medicine as well as science.
Even though possession of marijuana remains illegal under state law, several cities have moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot. Instead of arresting people caught with weed, they issue a citation in a manner similar to a traffic violation. In fact, a media review of municipal policies showed that nine of Wisconsin’s 10 largest cities have decriminalized weed. While someone caught with a couple of joints could face up to six months in jail in some areas of the state, he or she may face no penalties whatsoever in others.
Madison first adopted a decriminalization in 1977, making it legal to possess up to 28 grams of pot. If you are caught smoking in a public place, the penalty is a $100 fine. Milwaukee assesses a $50 fine for anyone caught with 25 grams or less of pot in their home and a $500 for smoking in public. Members of the Menominee Indian Tribe voted in 2015 to allow both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana on reservation land.
As far as state law is concerned, however, the penalties for weed possession remain stringent. A first possession offense can lead to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine — no matter how much weed is involved. Second and subsequent convictions are punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Cultivating any amount of weed can lead to even harsher penalties. If you are caught growing up to four plants, you could face 3.5 years in jail and a fine of as much as $10,000. The penalty for growing between five and 20 plants is a six-year jail term and a $10,000 fine. Additional time could be given if the cultivation occurs in a drug-free zone, such as within 1,000 feet of a pool, housing project, jail, school, drug treatment facility or youth center. If someone is caught selling marijuana to a minor, he or she could face an added five years in prison.
More information is available in our Wisconsin marijuana laws section.
Read Wisconsin’s Full Medical Marijuana Laws to gain full specific knowledge of Wisconsin’s exact legal guidelines without interpretation.