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Republican leaders say Evers’ pot proposal to be snuffed out

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal to legalize medical marijuana and small amounts of recreational pot will not pass the Wisconsin Legislature, Republican leaders of the budget-writing committee said Thursday.

“It’s really off the wall scary,” Sen. Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican, said of Evers’ proposal at a WisPolitics.com luncheon attended by lobbyists, Capitol insiders and other power brokers.

“What is scary,” countered Evers’ spokeswoman in a statement later, “is Republicans’ complete and total disregard for the will of the people.”

Evers included the pot legalization plan as part of his two-year state budget proposal that is pending before the Joint Finance Committee. Under his plan, medical marijuana would be legalized and possessing, manufacturing or distributing up to 25 grams of recreational pot would be decriminalized.

Evers has pointed to public support for legalization, increased tax revenue that would come in and the benefit of medical marijuana to the help it could help as reasons to legalize it. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll put public support for medical marijuana at 83 percent and 59 percent for recreational pot.

Democrats have been trying every session for the past 10 years to get some form of marijuana legalization passed as other states have moved forward. There is a separate bill this year by Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent to fully legalize marijuana for all uses, medical and recreational.

Thirty-three states — including neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois — have legalized medical marijuana.

While Darling and Nygren were unified in opposition to the pot plan, they disagreed on Evers’ budget proposal to increase the tax on vaping products.

Evers’ budget would impose a tax on all e-cigarettes and vaping products equal to 71 percent of the product’s list price. The tax rate mirrors the existing rate on traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Darling said she was surprised by the amount of testimony from young people at four public budget hearings across the state about the prevalence of vaping and their desire to clamp down on its use.

But Darling said she favored more education first and the tax increase would not be considered. Nygren, however, said “that is something we will have to arm wrestle on.”

He said the 71 percent tax Evers proposed may be too high, but he’s open to considering some level of higher tax for the products.

The Joint Finance Committee held its last public hearing on Evers’ budget this week and will start meeting to take votes on his spending plan in May. Darling and Nygren said they expect the committees to finish its work in June, in time for the full Legislature to pass the budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

However, the question is whether Evers will sign the budget with line-item vetoes of veto the entire plan. If he does that, passing a budget would likely go well past the July 1 deadline. But unlike at the federal level, government in Wisconsin does not shut down during a budget impasse and state spending continues at the current level until a new plan is signed into law.

Nygren said he hoped Evers would sign the GOP-approved budget.

“If it doesn’t meet every single one of his objectives is he going to veto it?” Nygren said. “I think that would be foolish.”

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