Wisconsin Lawmakers Could Amplify Punishments for Cannabis Extraction

Laws in the state are getting tougher, not easier, on cannabis manufacturing practices.
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Wisconsin representatives upped the ante on punishments for cannabis extraction, comparing dangerous manufacturing practices to the meth-making process. In some Wisconsin lawmakers’ eyes, extracts are entirely different from cannabis flower, and the use and manufacturing of them should be punished accordingly.

Wisconsin Examiner reports that on September 30 Wisconsin’s Assembly Committee on Substance Abuse and Prevention held a hearing on a bill, Assembly Bill 440,  that would enhance felony penalties surrounding butane hash oil and related products. 

Hash oil—a concentrated THC extract that has been around for generations—was cited as one of the concerning forms of concentrates. Other popular forms of concentrates that have gained considerable popularity over the past few decades include wax, shatter, live resin, rosin, and the list goes on. But forms of butane hash oil (BHO) is what they’re really after.

Representative Jesse James (R- Altoona) testified on the bill’s particular focus on butane extracts but the measure also covers several facets of the manufacturing process. James emphasized throughout his testimony that certain methods of manufacturing extracts using butane can cause a risk of a chemical reaction and explosion. James cited “the open-loop system,”—a cheap, risky way of making concentrate. 

“Growing marijuana in your home is not going to cause an explosion,” James said. “It could cause a fire if you don’t properly take care of your lamps and everything like that. But this process in and of itself, it’s almost similar to a meth lab.”

Under current law, cannabis manufacturing, distribution, delivery and possession charges can result in felony charges that range in severity, depending on the amount of material involved. 

“Under this bill, the penalty increases to a Class E felony, regardless of the amount marijuana involved, if the person uses butane extraction in the manufacturing of the marijuana and in separating the plant resin from a marijuana plant,” the bill reads. The bill also raises penalties for people with past cannabis-related charges when they face new charges for THC extracts or resin.

The West Central Drug Task Force specifically requested the enhanced felony charges.

Representative Kristina Shelton (D- Green Bay) wondered if the law would conflict with future regulations—causing unintended problems. “My concern is if and when we—and I will say when because I believe that we will eventually legalize marijuana, I know not everyone agrees with me but I’m going to say when. …When we legalize marijuana, if we were to pass this bill… would this bill prohibit a closed-loop system that would be considered safe by professionals, using professional-grade equipment?” 

James conceded, “I would suspect that there would be a conflict there, statutorily.” While Shelton acknowledged the dangers of manufacturing extracts without the proper supervision, she believed the law could cause problems.

Governor Tony Evers proposed a $165 million regulated cannabis market that could fuel a $80 million community reinvestment fund, but it was shot down by GOP lawmakers. 

Wisconsin Senator Melissa Agard supported legislation to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin. In August, she introduced legislation in an attempt to make it a reality. Agard announced the legislation outside of South Beloit’s marijuana dispensary. It’s located right on the state line between Illinois and Wisconsin, and served as the frontlines for the fight to end cannabis prohibition in the area. 

Wisconsin remains an “island of prohibition” without adult use nor medical cannabis sales. Over 60 percent of Wisconsin citizens support legalizing cannabis for adult use, while over 80 percent support legalizing medical cannabis.

In the meantime, however, local areas such as Milwaukee and Appleton, have all but legalized cannabis by passing local ordinances that drop fines for possession to no more than $1. In the city of Madison, cannabis possession has been decriminalized.

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