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How to open a dispensary in Wisconsin

Overview

Are you looking for information on how to open a dispensary in Wisconsin? This page will keep you up-to-date on the most recent news and information on the cannabis sector in the state, providing vital insights into what will happen in the coming months.

In Wisconsin, marijuana is currently illegal. CBD derived from hemp that fulfills the federal criteria of containing no more than 0.3 percent THC, on the other hand, is permitted.

According to a March 7, 2022 interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R) said that implementing medical cannabis legalization would be a more plausible prospect as a first step toward the state’s legalization of marijuana. However, despite the fact that adult-use legalization has a far more difficult route to go through the legislature and be signed into law, Representative Steineke believes Wisconsin is moving in that direction.

A poll conducted by the Marquette Law School found that individuals in Wisconsin are more supportive of marijuana legalization than ever before. 61% of voters support marijuana legalization, a significant increase over the 2013 poll’s 50%. When it comes to party affiliation, 51% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats want to make it legal.

In November 2022, voters in eight Wisconsin cities and counties were asked whether they favor legalizing, taxing, and regulating cannabis like alcohol. Dane County, Eau Claire County, Milwaukee County, Appleton, Kenosha, Racine, Stevens Point, and Superior all approved the initiatives. While the results do not enact any immediate changes in the laws, they might serve as a message to state politicians regarding the preferences of constituents. 

On June 20th, 2023, Governor Tony Evers approved Assembly Bill 245. This extensive bill focuses on revenue sharing and improving funding for local governments. However, one provision in the bill forbids local authorities from including non-binding advisory questions on the ballot. The removal of advisory questions could hinder local government’s ability to show public support for cannabis legalization through referenda, which could be seen as a setback for advocates of cannabis reform.

On January 8th, 2024, Wisconsin unveiled its measured approach to medical marijuana, signaling a shift in the state’s stance on cannabis. Following the announcement of a Republican-led proposal, the state is poised to open five state-run dispensaries, catering exclusively to medical cannabis users. In just a few months since the proposal, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has reported a steady increase in patient registrations, with numbers expected to grow as the program gains momentum. This growth encompasses a rise in demand for medical cannabis products, including oils, edibles, and pills, leading to a notable uptick in business for the sector. The initiative, which mirrors Minnesota’s medical cannabis model, is also set to enhance the state’s economy, with early tax collections showing promising returns. Wisconsin is further expanding its reach by introducing new licenses, with a focus on ensuring equitable access and supporting communities historically impacted by stringent drug laws. This move underscores Wisconsin’s commitment to a balanced and socially responsible cannabis market.

On January 16th, 2024, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expressed in a news conference his unwillingness to compromise with Senate Republicans, who have raised concerns over his proposal, particularly the idea of establishing state-run dispensaries. After extensive negotiations, Vos’s comprehensive bill, needing at least 50 Republican votes to pass, seeks to restrict medical marijuana access to people with serious chronic illnesses like cancer, excluding the option for smokable products. The bill suggests setting up only five state-controlled dispensary locations. This stringent policy stands in sharp contrast to the broader national movement, with 38 states having legalized medical marijuana and 24 permitting recreational use. The momentum for legalization in Wisconsin is increasing as its neighboring states ease their cannabis regulations. To be enacted, the bill must clear both the Senate and Assembly and get the nod from Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who is in favor of complete legalization but has only shown lukewarm support for this specific medical marijuana proposal.

On February 15th, 2024, Wisconsin halted progress on a medical marijuana bill, a cautious attempt at legalization led by Republican lawmakers. This legislation aimed to permit patients with specific medical conditions to purchase non-smokable cannabis from state-operated facilities, marking a significant step towards modifying the state’s stance on cannabis. Despite initial momentum, the bill’s advancement has stalled, primarily due to disagreements within the Republican-controlled legislature, particularly between the Assembly and the Senate. The proposed bill sought to establish a regulated system for medical cannabis, including creating an Office of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the Department of Health Services to oversee patient and caregiver registries and manage the distribution of cannabis products. Despite Governor Tony Evers’ openness to signing the bill, provided it contains no “poison pills,” the legislative session’s end looms, diminishing the likelihood of the bill’s passage.

The Opportunity Size

Gov. Tony Evers’ office forecasts that legal cannabis would generate approximately $44.4 million in “segregated tax revenue” for the state and an additional $10.2 million in general fund tax revenue for fiscal year 2025.

Efforts for Legalization

In February 2021, in his proposed state budget, Gov. Tony Evers (D) attempted to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana in the state, but the cannabis language was pulled out by a GOP-led legislative committee. Democrats attempted to reinstate the measures via the passage of an amendment, but Republicans rejected their efforts.

On January 26, 2022, Representative Patrick Snyder and Senator Mary Felzkowski proposed a bill to establish a state commission to regulate medicinal marijuana. Patients who qualify for medicinal marijuana will be permitted to possess and use it, while dispensaries, producers, transporters, processors, and labs will be granted licenses to operate in the state. Under the bill, a medicinal marijuana regulatory commission would be formed within the Department of Revenue, which would be responsible for enforcing regulations for the program in cooperation with a medical marijuana advisory board. However, on March 15th, 2022, the bill failed to pass according to Senate Joint Resolution 1, and on March 23rd, 2022, a fiscal estimate was received.

On February 15th, 2023, Gov. Evers revealed his biennial budget proposal that again includes provisions for legalizing medical and recreational cannabis in the state. The governor indicated his intention to put a measure in his request allowing adults aged 21 and above who are residents of Wisconsin to buy and possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use. Non-residents, on the other hand, would be allowed up to one-quarter ounce. 

On May 2nd, 2023, Wisconsin’s proposal to legalize marijuana, which was included in the state’s budget by Democratic governor Tony Evers, was rejected by Republicans in the legislature. There were approximately 500 more parts of the budget plan that were shot down. 

Wisconsin residents will not be able to petition to have a medical marijuana initiative placed on the state’s ballot. Any legislation aimed at legalizing marijuana would have to be approved by the state legislature.

According to Assembly Majority Leader Steineke, one of the most difficult aspects of legalizing marijuana in the state will be developing legislation that is both comprehensive and restrictive enough to pass. The real problem is how well the legislature can write a medicinal marijuana bill that doesn’t open the door wide to recreational marijuana.

On December 26th, 2023, Wisconsin introduced Assembly Bill 861, a significant step towards decriminalizing marijuana possession by proposing to lower penalties for possessing up to 14 grams to a $100 civil fine. The bill aims to simplify legal processes for minor offenses and reduce penalties for larger amounts and drug paraphernalia. Reflecting broader U.S. cannabis policy discussions, this legislative step has been forwarded to the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

Local Cannabis Restrictions & Laws

In Wisconsin, Appleton, Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, and other local jurisdictions have passed municipal ordinances or resolutions that either completely or partly decriminalize minor recreational cannabis possession charges. 

On March 1, 2022, Green Bay, Wisconsin’s third-largest city, adopted revisions to its cannabis possession policy on March 1, 2022. The members of the city’s Common Council unanimously decided to cut the penalty for people 21 and older who are in possession of 28 grams or less of cannabis in public or private settings to zero dollars.

Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana in Wisconsin is limited to CBD. It is only allowed for people who have a signed authorization from a physician and only if the CBD has no psychoactive effect.

In 2014, Wisconsin authorized CBD oil for medicinal purposes. Lydia’s Law, formally known as Wisconsin Act 267, authorized CBD oil but with very rigorous medical standards. It was approved particularly for people suffering from seizure disorders.

In 2017, Gov. Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 10 into law, legalizing CBD oil in Wisconsin. The law made it legal for residents to possess CBD oil with a physician’s prescription.

SB 10 in Wisconsin foresaw the need for the state government to adhere to federal law if CBD oil was reclassified on the national scale. In March 2017, the Wisconsin Assembly enacted Assembly Bill 49, which loosens limitations on CBD.

The state then passed SB 188, which clarified and linked Wisconsin’s hemp production rules with the 2018 Farm Bill, by defining the terms and THC concentration as less than 0.3 percent.

Currently, Wisconsin is not accepting any cannabis business applications.

As Wisconsin continues to develop its cannabis program and as events unfold that will impact when and how marijuana legalization will occur, we will keep you informed of any relevant news regarding the establishment of a dispensary in Wisconsin. By subscribing to our Wisconsin Cannabis Mailing List (below), we will keep you informed of all the relevant and not-so-easy-to-find information and news about Wisconsin legalization. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • What are the most recent developments regarding the legalization of cannabis in Wisconsin?
  • When will applications for new cannabis licenses be available?
  • What special programs will be offered?
  • And more

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