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Cannabis in Wisconsin

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Cannabis in Wisconsin is illegal for recreational use. Possession of any amount is punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a $1000 fine for a first offense. A second offense is punished as a felony with up to 3.5 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. At the local level, however, numerous municipalities and counties have decriminalized cannabis or lessened penalties for minor possession offenses. Medical use is legal only in the form of low-THC cannabis oil (CBD oil).

Wisconsin was the nation's leading hemp producer during the 1940s and home to the nation's last hemp-producing company (Rens Hemp Company) prior to federal prohibition. A 2017 law reauthorized hemp cultivation in the state.

Industrial hemp[edit]

Industrial hemp was grown experimentally in Wisconsin as early as 1908 on state farms under the direction of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station.[1][2] By 1917 there were 7,000 acres dedicated to hemp farming in the state, and by the 1940s Wisconsin led the nation in industrial hemp production.[3]

The Rens Hemp Company of Brandon, Wisconsin, closed in 1958, was the last legal hemp producer in the U.S. following World War II.[4] Prior to its 1958 shutdown, Rens had been the primary provider of hemp rope for the United States Navy.[5]

In November 2017, Governor Scott Walker signed a law legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp (containing under 0.3% THC), following unanimous passage of the bill in the Wisconsin legislature.[6][7]


The 1939 legislation "161.275 Possession and use of marijuana; penalty" stated that the penalty for "growing, cultivating, mixing, compounding, having control of, preparing, possessing, using, prescribing, selling, administering or dispensing marijuana or hemp" would be no less than one year and no more than two years in the state prison.[8] Currently, possession of any amount (first offense) is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Possession of any amount for a subsequent offense is a felony, punishable by up to 3.5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, which is also the penalty for selling 200 grams (7 oz) or less.[9]

State law allows possession of less than 25 grams (9/10 oz) to be prosecuted as an ordinance violation at the municipal and county level, permitting those entities to issue a penalty of monetary forfeiture (fines) with no jail time if the amount specified by the ordinance is received.[10][11] In practice, numerous counties and municipalities have such ordinances.


State level[edit]

CBD oil legalization (2014, 2017)[edit]

In April 2014, Wisconsin Act 267 (2013 Assembly Bill 726) was enacted. The legislation nominally legalized the use of cannabidiol (CBD) in the state for treatment of seizure disorders. It was passed by a voice vote in the Assembly and a unanimous 33–0 vote in the Senate. It was renamed "Lydia's Law" by an act a month later in honor of a seven-year-old girl who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy; the girl's parents had pushed for CBD legislation in the state.[12] The bill was criticized as being largely symbolic, as in order to gain support for passage in the Senate, its sponsors added a clause specifying that CBD oil must have FDA approval to be prescribed; prior to that clause the bill had support in the Assembly but was stalled in the Senate. Because CBD did not yet have FDA approval, and because a complex series of steps were required to allow trial usage, Wisconsin doctors were not allowed to prescribe CBD.[13] As a result, CBD advocates stated that they could not find a doctor in Wisconsin willing to prescribe CBD. In mid-2015, state Sen. Van Wanggaard proposed an amendment to remove penalties for possession of CBD oil, negating prescription requirements, but the amendment still would not provide a legal way to create or obtain CBD oil.[14]

In 2017, Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that amended Lydia's Law to legalize access to CBD oil for people whose doctors certify that the oil is used to treat a medical condition. Prior to that, access to CBD oil had been limited in Wisconsin. With the exception of one state senator, every other legislator in the Senate and Assembly voted for the bill.[15][16][17][18][19]

Other reforms proposed[edit]

In 2013 and 2015 state Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) introduced bills to fully legalize cannabis in the state, with no success.[20][21] In 2017 another such bill was introduced.[22]

In February 2019, newly-elected governor Tony Evers announced that his upcoming budget would include a proposal to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes, decriminalize for any use possession of up to 25 grams (9/10 oz), and establish an expungement procedure for convictions involving less than 25 grams (9/10 oz).[23][24] Evers has also previously spoken in support of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis,[25] though this was not included in the proposal.

Lower-level jurisdictions[edit]

Madison decriminalization (1977)[edit]

In April 1977, Madison voters approved a ballot measure to allow the possession of up to 112 grams (4 oz) of cannabis in a private area. For possession in public, offenders would be subject to a $109 fine unless used under the care of a doctor. The law was one of the earliest municipal decriminalization ordinances passed in the nation.[26]

Milwaukee (1997)[edit]

In May 1997, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist signed a bill to make the first-time possession of up to 25 grams (9/10 oz) of cannabis a non-criminal offense, punishable by a fine ranging from $250 to $500 or imprisonment of up to 20 days.[27] The legislation also allowed offenders the option to perform community service or take drug education classes.[27] In 2015 the penalty for possession of up to 25 grams (9/10 oz) was further reduced to a $50 fine.[28][29]

Dane County (2014)[edit]

On April 1, 2014, residents of Dane County voted on a non-binding referendum to indicate whether or not state lawmakers should pass legislation to allow the recreational use of cannabis. The measure passed with 64.5% of the vote.[30][31]

Menominee Indian Reservation (2015)[edit]

In August 2015, members of the Menominee Indian Reservation (conterminous with Menominee County) voted 677 to 499 to legalize cannabis for recreational use and 899 to 275 to legalize cannabis for medical use.[32][33] The Menonimee are uniquely positioned in the state, as the only Indian reservation that falls solely under the jurisdiction of federal law (rather than under Wisconsin Public Law 280 like all other reservations in the state), meaning that the state of Wisconsin cannot prevent legal changes within the sovereign reservation.[34]

2018 advisory referenda[edit]

In November 2018, voters in eleven Wisconsin counties approved non-binding referendums expressing support for legalizing medical cannabis, and voters in six counties approved non-binding referendums expressing support for legalizing recreational cannabis.[35][36] The support for medical cannabis ranged from 67.1% in Clark County to 88.5% in Kenosha County, while support for recreational cannabis ranged from 60.2% in Racine county to 76.4% in Dane County.[37] The 16 counties that weighed in accounted for over half the state's population.[37]

Eau Claire (2018)[edit]

In November 2018, Eau Claire city council members approved a resolution setting a $1 fine for first-time possession of up to 25 grams (9/10 oz) of cannabis (though with court costs included the total comes to $138).[38] The resolution came a few weeks after voters in Eau Claire County approved a non-binding referendum expressing support for legalizing the recreational use of cannabis.[39]

Madison decriminalization (2020)[edit]

In November 2020, Madison Common Council approved legislation to allow individuals 18 and older to possess up to 28 grams (1 oz) of cannabis and consume it in public and private places.[40] Use within 1000 feet of a school, where tobacco smoking is prohibited, or without the consent of the property owner remain illegal under the law (reduced to a $1 fine).[41][42] The ordinance passed with only one opposing vote.[43]

Milwaukee County (2021)[edit]

In March 2021, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted 16–1 to reduce the penalty for possession of up to 25 grams (9/10 oz) of cannabis to $1 (not including court costs). Previously the fine was $275.[44][45]

Oshkosh (2021)[edit]

In September 2021, the Oshkosh City Council voted 6-1 to lower the municipal fine for first offense possession of cannabis from $200 to $75.[46]

Green Bay (2022)[edit]

In March 2022, Green Bay City Council voted unanimously to eliminate the fine for possessing up to 28 grams (1 oz) of cannabis so that only court costs would apply ($61). The fine for possession of paraphernalia was also similarly eliminated.[47][48]

2022 advisory referendums[edit]

In November 2022, voters in three counties and five municipalities approved non-binding referendums expressing support for the legalization of recreational cannabis.[49] The measures were approved in the counties of Dane, Eau Claire, and Milwaukee, and the municipalities of Appleton, Kenosha, Racine, Stevens Point, and Superior.[50] Support ranged from 69% in Eau Claire County to 82% in Dane County.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ United States. Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering (1908). Report. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 39.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ United States. Dept. of Agriculture (1910). Report of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Department. p. 77.
  3. ^ Colbert, Ellie (May 12, 2019). "Wisconsin's new hemp industry blooms; will marijuana be far behind?". The Capital Times. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  4. ^ TAPPI Journal. Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. 1999. p. 114.
  5. ^ John Roulac (January 1, 1997). Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World's Most Promising Plant. Chelsea Green Pub. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-930031-93-0.
  6. ^ "Walker signs bill legalizing hemp farming in Wisconsin". WISC-TV. Associated Press. December 1, 2017. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  7. ^ NBC15. "Walker signs bill legalizing hemp farming in Wisconsin". Retrieved December 2, 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Wisconsin (1939). Wisconsin Statutes, 1939: Printed Pursuant to the Provisions of Section 35.18 of These Statutes, and Embracing All General Statutes in Force at the Close of the General Session of 1939. Legislative Reference Bureau. pp. 1893–. STANFORD:36105064280782.
  9. ^ "Wisconsin Laws & Penalties". NORML. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  10. ^ Power of municipalities to prohibit criminal conduct (66.0107). Wisconsin Legislature. 2007.
  11. ^ Penalties under county and municipal ordinances (66.0109). Wisconsin Legislature. 2007.
  12. ^ Schaaf, Mark (May 21, 2014). "Law named to honor Burlington 7-year-old". The Journal Times. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  13. ^ Ferguson, Dana (June 16, 2014). "Law allowing marijuana derivative for treatment of seizures remains unused". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  14. ^ Mark Schaff (April 20, 2015). "'Lydia's Law' passes, but treatment still elusive". Racine Journal-Times.
  15. ^ "Wisconsin Legislature: SB10: Bill Text". docs.legis.wisconsin.gov. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  16. ^ "2017 Senate Vote 12". docs.legis.wisconsin.gov. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  17. ^ "Wisconsin Legislature: AB49: Bill Text". docs.legis.wisconsin.gov. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  18. ^ Opoien, Jessie (March 7, 2017). "Wisconsin Assembly unanimously approves bill to ease access to CBD oil". The Capital Times. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  19. ^ Stein, Jason (April 17, 2017). "Gov. Scott Walker signs laws on unions, cannabis oil". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  20. ^ Sargent, Melissa (April 13, 2015). "Rep. Melissa Sargent: Marijuana legalization must happen in Wisconsin". The Capital Times. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  21. ^ Marley, Patrick (April 13, 2015). "Democratic legislator to introduce bill legalizing pot". jsonline.com. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
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  24. ^ Sommerhauser, Mark (February 17, 2019). "Tony Evers to propose pot decriminalization in budget, medical use for cancer, PTSD, chronic pain". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  25. ^ Bauer, Scott (January 16, 2019). "Evers supports legalization of recreational marijuana". Associated Press. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  26. ^ Cullen, Sandy (April 10, 2007). "30 Years Later Madison Voters Passed A Law In April 1977 That Permits Possession Of Small Amounts Of Marijuana In Private Places". madison.com. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  27. ^ a b "Milwaukee Moves To Decriminalize Marijuana". NORML. May 22, 1997. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  28. ^ Taylor, Beverly (June 2, 2015). ""This is not a free for all:" Fine reduced for possession of small amounts of marijuana". WITI. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  29. ^ Storck, Gary (June 13, 2015). "Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett Quietly Signs Pot Fine Reduction Ordinance". cannabadger.com. Archived from the original on November 11, 2018. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  30. ^ Craver, Jack (April 2, 2014). "Dane County pot referendum passes easily: What does it mean?". The Capital Times. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
  31. ^ "Dane County State Legalization of Marijuana Referendum, Question 2 (April 2014)". Ballotpedia.com. April 4, 2014. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
  32. ^ Spivak, Cary (August 21, 2015). "Menominee tribal members approve on-reservation marijuana use". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  33. ^ Williams, Scott (August 21, 2015). "Menominee back legal marijuana". The Shawano Leader. Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  34. ^ Spivak, Cary (August 16, 2015). "Menominee tribe prepares for vote on legalizing marijuana". Jsonline.com. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  35. ^ Behm, Don (November 6, 2018). "Pro pot: Voters support all marijuana advisory referendums on Tuesday's ballots". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  36. ^ Anderson, Scott (November 6, 2018). "Who Voted For Marijuana In Wisconsin? We Have The Answer". Patch. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  37. ^ a b Hubbuch, Chris (November 8, 2018). "Wisconsin voters embrace pot; nearly 1 million vote yes on medical, recreational use". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  38. ^ Kremer, Rich (November 28, 2018). "Eau Claire Sets $1 Fine For Marijuana Possession". Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  39. ^ Casey, Evan (January 14, 2019). "Marijuana laws changing one city at a time; Eau Claire passes $1 fine". The Journal Times. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  40. ^ "Madison Common Council overhauls local cannabis laws". WKOW. November 18, 2020.
  41. ^ Adlin, Ben (November 18, 2020). "Lawmakers In Wisconsin Capital Vote To Allow Marijuana Use In Public". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  42. ^ O'Neill, Madalyn (November 18, 2020). "What you need to know about new marijuana ordinance enforcement in Madison". WMSN-TV. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  43. ^ Becker, Abigail (November 19, 2020). "Madison City Council eases marijuana restrictions". The Capital Times. Retrieved December 28, 2020.
  44. ^ Jenkins, Cameron (March 27, 2021). "Milwaukee County drops marijuana possession fine to $1". The Hill. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  45. ^ Dirr, Alison (March 25, 2021). "Milwaukee County Board votes to drop fine for marijuana possession to up to $1". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  46. ^ Macek, Katy (September 14, 2021). "Stepping closer to decriminalization: Oshkosh lowers municipal fine for marijuana possession to $75". Oshkosh Northwestern. Retrieved September 30, 2022.
  47. ^ Hatfield, Christine (March 2, 2022). "Green Bay lowers marijuana possession fines". Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  48. ^ Friel, Noelle (March 2, 2022). "Green Bay Common Council reduces penalties for possession of marijuana". WGBA. Retrieved March 28, 2022.
  49. ^ Hall, Tajma (November 9, 2022). "Significant amount of Wisconsin voters want marijuana legalized". WDJT. Retrieved November 11, 2022.
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  51. ^ Redman, Henry (November 10, 2022). "Voters across state overwhelmingly approve non-binding marijuana, abortion referenda". Wisconsin Examiner. Retrieved November 11, 2022.

Further reading[edit]