Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

I hope you are having a great week and enjoying the many fall activities currently happening in our local communities. 

Committee activity in the State Capitol is happening fast. Among the bills being discussed is one to legalize industrial hemp as an agricultural opportunity. This bill, Senate Bill 119, received both a public hearing and a vote in the Senate Agriculture, Small Business, and, Tourism committee. 

During the committee process, there was a great discussion about the economic benefits that could result from legalizing industrial hemp in our state. Agricultural hemp production in our nation and state was shut down due to false perceptions about hemp. To be clear, hemp is not marijuana.

However, there are conversations about Wisconsin's prohibition on medical and recreational marijuana also happening. Several pieces of legislation addressing this issue have also been introduced this session. 

Keep reading for more information on some of the differences between hemp and marijuana and the various legislation pending pertaining to both issues.

In Service, 

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Digging into the Economic Benefits of Hemp and Marijuana

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Public and industry support is growing for the regulation and use of cannabis plants, both in terms of marijuana legalization for medical and recreational use and industrial hemp as an agricultural crop. 

At least 33 states have passed legislation to allow for industrial hemp and 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have passed comprehensive marijuana legislation. 

As mentioned, there are several bills floating around the Legislature regarding hemp and marijuana. Keep reading for more on each of these bills. I would love to hear what you think about each piece of legislation and hope you will email me your thoughts and opinions about this growing topic at Sen.Larson@Legis.Wisconsin.Gov.


Wisconsin Moving Forward with Industrialized Hemp?

Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business, and, Tourism held a public hearing on Senate Bill 119. This bill allows the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to issue licenses that authorize growing and processing industrial hemp.

As you may know, industrial hemp is a close relative to marijuana, but it contains no more than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol or 'THC' -- an active ingredient in marijuana. As a member of the committee, I was interested to hear the varied perspectives on this issue, from local farmers to a professor who has extensively studied the crop.

Wisconsin farmers once profited from hemp crops and Wisconsin was a leading hemp producer. However, in a prohibition-style effort to eradicate marijuana, federal and state drug laws swept up industrial hemp as well, and by the 1950s, most farmers had stopped growing hemp. According to the Congressional Research Service, 25,000 hemp products -- ranging from clothing to building insulation -- fall into nine unique industries, including agriculture, automotive, construction materials, and more. The ban on the ability of U.S. farmers to grow hemp meant industries had to import hemp raw materials or finished hemp products. The ban also meant the U.S. had to rely heavily on Canadian hemp growers. Further, China has now become the worldwide leader in growing and supplying hemp. 

Changing the hemp trade imbalance began in 2014, when Congress sent a federal Farm Bill to President Obama that lifted some of the federal restrictions on growing and distributing hemp and provided more flexibility to states to regulate the crop. Specifically, the new federal rules allow for universities and state agriculture departments to begin supervising hemp farming in pilot programs. Since the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill, state legislatures across the country began creating new hemp laws, resulting in at least 33 states passing legislation. 

Many states that passed hemp bills have done so to study its use for specific purposes. For instance, North Carolina is currently studying hemp for soil conservation and reforestation efforts. In Kentucky, research is being done on the potential for hemp to be used as a biofuel. 
 

Industrial hemp is good for our economy and will allow Wisconsin to participate in interstate trade if the bill passes. Hemp has many uses and this bill will create jobs in both farming and business. Senate Bill 119 has strong bipartisan support. On October 18, Senate Bill 119 passed unanimously out of it's Senate committee. This is a positive step forward for this bill, and I hope to see it continue to move forward through the Legislature. As noted in this editorial in the Journal Times, hemp as an agricultural crop is not only good for our economy but for our environment as well by providing another crop for farmers to rotate thus protecting our soil. 

Starting the Conversation on Marijuana Legalization
More and more, I am hearing from our neighbors voicing their support for broader legislation to legalize marijuana. This issue has gained increased support due to states passing legislation legalizing marijuana without experiencing the 'doom and gloom' outcomes that opponents had predicted. 
For these reasons, state lawmakers have introduced several proposals in recent years to reform our policies and practices related to marijuana.

These bills range from decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana to full regulation and legalization:

  • Comprehensive Marijuana Legalization -- the 'Legalize Opportunity Act' (Assembly Bill 482)
    States that have moved forward with legalizing marijuana have seen enormous economic benefits. Colorado, for instance, has seen a $2.4 billion economic impact in their state and over 18,000 jobs have been created. It is projected that marijuana will be Colorado's largest excise revenue source by 2020.

    Astoundingly, U.S. marijuana sales are also projected to surpass $22 billion in the next three years.

    A bill introduced this session as Assembly Bill 482 would fully legalize marijuana in the state of Wisconsin, including the manufacturing, distribution, delivering, possession, and use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana.

    Under the bill, introduced by Rep. Melissa Sargent, individuals over age 21 could possess and use recreational marijuana Additionally, anyone over 18 diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for a debilitating medical condition can qualify to possess and use medicinal marijuana. Those under the age of 18 diagnosed with or undergoing treatment for a
    debilitating medical condition can qualify to use medicinal marijuana only with consent from their parent or guardian. Overall, this is a comprehensive, sensible policy based on experiences of the states who have pioneered legalization.

    Assembly Bill 482, or the 'Legalize Opportunity Act,' considers important health and public safety issues and includes
    provisions to integrate marijuana into alcohol and tobacco curricula in Wisconsin schools and require the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to develop and oversee best practices for packaging and labeling of marijuana
    products. If you'd like to learn more about the specifics of this comprehensive proposal, Rep. Sargent has put together a Frequently Asked Questions document.  

  • Increasing Access to Medical Marijuana (Senate Bill 38)
    It's important to continue conversations about the economic benefits of full marijuana legalization, however, there is a critical medical need to immediately move forward with improving access to patients who would benefit from the legalization of medical marijuana. 

    All across our state, Wisconsinites have witnesses their loved ones suffer from debilitating illnesses. We as a community have a duty to relieve pain and suffering without forcing our neighbors, friends, and family members to break the law for using marijuana to ease their symptoms. 

    The Compassionate Cannabis Care Act would allow for our friends fighting cancer with chemotherapy and other Wisconsinites who have a serious illness to safely access medical marijuana by permitting for its use with a doctor's recommendation. A Quinnipiac University poll recently found that 89% of Americans support access to medical marijuana. Currently, 29 states, including our neighbors -- Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan -- have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

    As a co-sponsor of this legislation, I hope to see it pass. The bill's primary authors will be holding a public listening session regarding this issue in the Milwaukee area. More information on this is included in the 'Take Action' section below. 

  • Medical Marijuana Referendum (Senate Joint Resolution 10)
    While Democrats believe Wisconsin should join other states in taking a bold stance on how we approach our marijuana policies, Republicans have been blocking these bills from advancing by preventing public hearings. That said, two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Chris Taylor have introduced legislation that would put an advisory referendum on the ballot for our neighbors to voice their opinions on the issue of medical marijuana.

    While this measure would not directly change our marijuana policies, it would at least allow Wisconsin voters the chance to formally express their support for this issue. 

  • Decriminalizing Small Amounts of Marijuana Possession (2015 Senate Bill 167)
    One idea that has seen bipartisan support in the Legislature is decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Some local municipalities in Wisconsin have approved similar policies, making a statewide standard common sense. From Milwaukee and Madison to Stevens Point and even Waukesha, more and more communities are making minor possession a civil fine rather than a criminal charge. 


    Even with advances at the local level, marijuana prohibition is still a leading cause of the incredibly expensive mass incarceration rates in Wisconsin. For these reasons, I was the Senate lead last session on a bill to remove burdensome penalties from low level, non-violent marijuana offenses. Specifically, the bill, which did not pass, would have eliminated penalties for possession, manufacture, delivery, and distribution of amounts marijuana (under 25 grams). 

    This is an issue of opportunity and fairness. There is a five-to-one disparity of African Americans arrested for non-violent crimes compared to their white neighbors. This is also an issue that affects our economy -- we’re wasting millions of taxpayer dollars as nonviolent felonies cost Wisconsin $30,000 per inmate per year. Furthermore, there are societal costs associated with our current statewide policies. Individuals who have a criminal record have a harder time finding employment and housing, for instance. By decriminalizing marijuana, we can improve access to financial security.   

    This session, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced a similar, albeit more restrictive, proposal. This bill, Assembly Bill 409, reduces the current penalties for having less than 10 grams of marijuana to a $100 forfeiture. 

  • Providing Access to CBD oil for Suffering Kids (Senate Bill 104)
    Nearly four years ago, the Legislature passed "Lydia's Law," which sought to allow families with seizure disorders to access nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) oil with a prescription from a Wisconsin provider.


    However, since the bipartisan passage of this bill, I have heard that crippling barriers still exist in trying to access CBD oil for these children. The truth of the matter is that Lydia's law was ineffective. Families have continued to suffer, and the majority party has continued to delay access to this critical treatment option.

    The Senate took up Senate Bill 10 earlier this session, which made small changes to Lydia's Law. However, the bill does not go far enough to actually address the barriers in obtaining CBD medicine for suffering kids.

    For these reasons, I introduced a substitute amendment to create a process for CBD to be manufactured in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the Republican-led Senate rejected this substitute amendment. 

    I have also introduced this legislative fix for CBD medication as a bill, Senate Bill 104. The bill would establish a licensure program, administered by the Department of Safety and Professional Services for individuals to produce and distribute CBD oil, allow a person who holds a license to manufacture CBD oil to possess tetrahydrocannabinols, so long as it is only going to be used to produce nonpsychoactive CBD oil, and clarify that any individual with the appropriate license may distribute CBD oil and any individual may possess CBD oil. 
     

    This bill is about restoring hope and health to Wisconsin families needing this medicine. By continuing my efforts, we move closer to helping those in need of CBD oil. 

  

Take Action! 
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Save the Date!

Democratic legislators are holding a press event and public listening session to hear from community members about their stance on medical marijuana.

Come hear from your neighbors and share your own perspective on this issue. 

Medical Marijuana Listening Session
Date: Monday, October 30
Time: 4:30 p.m. (press event) 5 p.m. (public hearing)

Location: Milwaukee Area TBD 

As details become available for this event, I will keep you updated via Facebook . 

 

In Case You Missed It

Each week, the Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and our Wisconsin communities. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighborhoods across the state. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks.

  • A Small Victory for our Shared, Public Waters
    In June 2016, Walker’s Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) betrayed our shared values of stewardship by adopting the opinion of Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel to no longer evaluate large well applications to determine the cumulative negative impacts they will have on our waters. This left our shared Wisconsin water unprotected while allowing for a flood of high-capacity well permits to be approved.

    Having a thorough review of high-capacity wells to ensure we are not drying up our shared waters and lands is something that everyone in Wisconsin can stand for -- because we all have a stake in access to clean, safe water to drink.

    Our friends at Clean Wisconsin filed a lawsuit, knowing that the GOP water privatization scheme was in direct opposition to decades of court decisions and legal interpretation that established DNR’s constitutional duty to protect our waters for all.

    Recently, a circuit court judge further solidified this precedent by ruling that the issuance of eight high-capacity well permits violated the public water protections enshrined in our state constitution. The judge also deemed that the DNR should make permit decisions based on the cumulative impacts of a newly proposed well.

    This decision confirms that Wisconsin should be a good neighbor state, a place where we don’t create laws that allow the wealthy to steal the water right from beneath our feet. Those waters belong to all of us. We simply can not allow the greed of a few to destroy the livelihood, health, and property of those around them.

    While we’ve seen far too many rollbacks of our conservation heritage since Walker took office, this court ruling is a small victory for our children and grandchildren who deserve a future where their water and lands are clean and safe. Click here to read more about this issue.

  • Help Stop the Toxic Mining Bill
    The good lands and water safeguarded by our Wisconsin heritage of stewardship are at risk by the toxic mining bill being pushed through the GOP-controlled Legislature.

    After passing out of a Senate committee earlier this month, SB 395/AB 499 had a public hearing in an Assembly committee last week.

    Clean and abundant water is a right. Help other concerned Wisconsinites reject efforts to jeopardize the health of our water and lands by calling your state legislators at 1-800-362-9472 and telling them to oppose the toxic sulfide mining bill. Then, ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to do the same.

    You can also voice your opposition to this dangerous and destructive bill by signing a Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ petition, by clicking here. 

  • In Light of Trump Decision, Wisconsin Must Pass 'BadgerCare for All'
    Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care.
    By issuing an executive order to get rid of a critical subsidy program, Trump is recklessly sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, which will disastrously increase health care costs.

    This is like cutting down an apple tree and then blaming it for not making apples. 

    In Wisconsin, we take care of each other and this shared value must be represented in our state policies now more than ever.

    Democrats in the Senate and Assembly have previously called for opening up our state’s BadgerCare program to anyone, regardless of income, through a buy-in program. It is a system that can work to save all of us money and provide great access to health care. 

    We must make sure our neighbors do not fall victim to Trump’s political games, therefore, Wisconsin legislative Democrats are renewing their call for a BadgerCare public option. Read more about this bill, Senate Bill 363, here. 

  • Ensuring Access to Healthy Meals 
    There are too many children in our state who go hungry each day. In fact, one in six, or 219,280, Wisconsin children struggle with hunger. This is a problem that can be solved.

    Hunger Task Force, Inc. has been working with parents, teachers, and kids to improve access, participation, and menus at Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in order to ensure that students have access to healthy school breakfast, lunch, and afterschool meals.

    The MPS School Board is currently holding listening sessions to hear from the community and gather insight on this important topic.

    Please consider joining in on the conversation by attending one of these meetings.

  • Get Covered! 
    It’s not too early to start thinking about 2018 health insurance. Visit healthcare.gov/apply-and- enroll so you and your family are ready to enroll Nov 1! Start preparing TODAY! 

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Events in the Community -- Halloween Edition 
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Many communities host their very own trick-or-treat event open to children and families. Here are the trick-or-treat times in the 7th Senate District:

Bay View:
Saturday, October 28
5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Cudahy:

Saturday, October 28
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Franklin:

Sunday, October 29
4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Milwaukee:

Sunday, October 29
1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Oak Creek:

Sunday, October 29
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

South Milwaukee:

Tuesday, October 31
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

St. Francis:

Sunday, October 29
5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

 
Pumpkin Pavilion
Thursday, October 19 through Sunday, October 22
Come see the beautiful sight of over 500 spooky jack-o-lanterns light up in the October night. The entire community is invited to attend in this year’s Pumpkin Pavilion to enjoy the Halloween festivities. On October 19 and 20, the public is invited to bring their creative carving ideas to help carve hundreds of pumpkins that will be set to light up on October 21 and 22. There will be fun games and activities, music, food, and the glowing pumpkin display for all to see. 

Humboldt Park Pavilion
3000 S. Howell Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53207

 

Zombie House 
Friday, October 27 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, October 28 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Come enjoy hayrides, treats, and zombie face painting at the Zombie House, sponsored by Friends of the Mill Pond and South Milwaukee E-Lions Club. Admission is $5 and children under three are free.

Milwaukee Gourmet House
800 Milwaukee Ave
South Milwaukee, WI  53172