GOP governor candidates Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Tim Ramthun pledge they won't legalize marijuana

Republican candidates for governor, left to right: Tim Ramthun,  Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels
Republican candidates for governor, left to right: Tim Ramthun, Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels

MADISON - All three Republican candidates for governor are pledging to veto any bill that legalizes marijuana for any use. But five of the eight Republicans running to be their running mates are for legalizing pot for medicinal use.

Marijuana has emerged as a flashpoint in the state Capitol, with more Republican lawmakers and candidates becoming supportive of proposals to legalize what Democrats have long called for as state polling shows public support for the idea.

Subscribe to our On Wisconsin Politics newsletter for the week's political news explained.

But the state Senate has long been a stubborn hurdle to such efforts.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, pipeline construction executive Tim Michels and state Rep. Tim Ramthun have all said they oppose legalizing marijuana.

The top candidates in the Republican primary for governor, Kleefisch and Michels, are locked in a tight race for the GOP nomination with less than two weeks before the Aug. 9 primary election.

More: Wisconsin governor election updates: Former VP Mike Pence endorses Rebecca Kleefisch for governor

During a candidate forum in Green Bay in June, Ramthun cited “connections in Colorado” who relayed concerns to him about “all new problems” in the state after marijuana use was legalized. Ramthun added he believes there is “some benefit to CBD oils.”

“For me, it’s going to make matters worse and I don’t want to see it in our state,” Ramthun said.

Kleefisch, during the same forum, stressed her position was informed by her relationship with law enforcement officers who she said informed her marijuana use creates a pathway to more potent drug consumption and gives way to narcotics trafficking.

“I listen to cops,” Kleefisch said “We know that marijuana is a gateway drug because this is what law enforcement says. We need to stop it where it starts.”

Michels, in separate radio interviews earlier this summer, said he opposes legalization.

"I do not. I do not support the legalization of marijuana," Michels said in an interview in May on WTAQ. "I think it's all a slippery slope. I really do."

The stances of the three candidate for governor put them at odds with most of the candidates vying to be the GOP primary winner's running mate.

Of the eight Republican contenders running for lieutenant governor, five said they would back creating a pathway to legalize cannabis for healing purposes.

State Sens. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, and Roger Roth, R-Appleton, business owners Jonathan Wichmann and Kyle Yudes, and Godsquad founder David King said in a recent debate they are in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Lancaster Mayor David Varnam, government agency consultant Will Martin and Fredrick Douglass Foundation ambassador Cindy Werner opposed legalizing medicinal cannabis.

More: Here are the 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats running in primary races for lieutenant governor

Among those who said they support rolling back restrictions on medical marijuana, none were willing to support legalizing recreational pot use, putting their public stances on the issue in line with their potential campaign partners.

Possessing or distributing any amount of marijuana is currently illegal in Wisconsin. But polling by the Marquette University Law School shows 61% of Wisconsinites, including 51% of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana — putting the top tier GOP candidates to challenge Evers potentially at odds with voters both statewide and from within their own party.

Evers and Democrats in the state Legislature have proposed numerous fruitless efforts to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, all of which were shot down by the Republican majority.

Given the heavily Republican makeup of the Legislature, it is unlikely Wisconsin will legalize recreational marijuana in the near future.

It is possible, however, that adversarial attitudes toward medical cannabis, even among prominent conservative figures are gradually beginning to shift.

In April of this year, a pair of GOP state senators introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana use that was given a hearing in the Legislature and co-sponsored by a group of 18 fellow Republicans in the Assembly.

The Republican primaries for governor and lieutenant governor will be held on Aug. 9.

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Kleefisch, Michels and Ramthun oppose marijuana legalization