Wisconsin Groups Push Ahead to Legalize Prescribed Marijuana


April 11, 2010 – At a prayer vigil on the steps of the state Capitol late last month, protesters — including a former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran — asked legislators to act on a medical marijuana bill that has stalled in committee.

Gov. Jim Doyle has said that if it passes, he would sign the bill. But one of the organizers of the protest, Gary Storck, is not too optimistic for this legislative session.

“(Legislators) just got so used to saying ‘no’ that they won’t even consider it,” said Storck, a Madison resident who uses marijuana to cope with glaucoma and chronic pain.

Storck heads the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and serves as a spokesman for Is My Medicine Legal Yet?, which promotes medical cannabis. He has been an advocate for medical marijuana for years. But today, as California prepares to vote on a ballot initiative that would broadly legalize possession and sale of marijuana, he said he believes society is moving in the direction of fewer restrictions on marijuana.

“It’s really a matter of quality of life, and a life with dignity,” Storck said of permitting medical marijuana.

There are 14 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized medical marijuana. South Dakota will also vote on medical marijuana in November. The Wisconsin legislation was introduced by Democrats Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison in the Assembly and Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Janesville in the Senate.

Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston, who is state Senate Majority Leader, told The Associated Press last fall that the Senate bill needed work.

The Wisconsin Medical Society has opposed the measure. Dr. Michael Miller, a Madison physician who is also the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, testified before the state Senate Health Committee in December.

“THC (marijuana’s active ingredient) is a dangerous drug,” Miller told the committee. “THC is addictive. There’s no debate about this, no controversy — no controversy within the fields of medicine and science.”

Miller also said marijuana’s effectiveness as a medical treatment tool is “limited.”

“It can work for minor pain. But there are many safe and effective alternatives for minor pain,” he said.

The Wisconsin Medical Society’s policy is to support research on cannabinoids. It opposes “smoking as a delivery device for THC,” and in testimony Miller expressed strong skepticism about having doctors prescribe the drug and called medicinal marijuana “wrong for Wisconsin.”

The measure is also opposed by the significant sectors of law enforcement, including the Wisconsin Narcotics Officers Association.

“The parade of people with real medical concerns at the Madison hearing (on the issue) was sad, because those backing this effort are using them to reach their goal of expanded legal marijuana use,” said Charles Wood, a Waukesha police officer who is vice president of the association, in a statement released last December.

That’s an unfair charge, said Storck. His group advocates medicinal marijuana to ease the suffering of medical patients. He said they are “on the front line” and deserve protection from being charged with crimes for possessing the drug.

But Storck and other advocates of medical marijuana do also advocate reform of other laws prohibiting marijuana sales and possession.

“For a Libertarian, is it a sneaky way to legalize marijuana? Well, really, we don’t care,” said Jim Maas of Rothschild, who is the the vice chairman of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin. “We think people should control their own bodies.”

But Maas also called medical marijuana “an issue of compassion” for people who are in pain.

Nationally, polls indicate there is broad public support for legalizing medical marijuana, though it drops off sharply when the question is generalized legalization. According to a poll conducted late last month and released April 1 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 73 percent of Americans favor having their state allow marijuana to be sold and used if prescribed by a doctor. Twenty-three percent of respondents opposed medical marijuana, and 4 percent did not know their position.

Meanwhile, 41 percent of respondents to a separate Pew Research Center poll favored overall legalization of the drug, while 52 percent did not. In the same poll in 2008, 35 percent favored legalization and 57 percent opposed it. In 2000, that number was 16 percent in favor and 81 percent opposed.

For activists like Storck, this could mean that Wisconsin and other states are on the cusp of changing the laws. But he said there are also reasons to doubt that things will change any time soon, regardless of what happens in California.

“A friend of mine was over the other day,” Storck said. “I’ve known him since first grade, and we’re both going to be 55 this year. He was arrested 30 years ago (for marijuana possession) and the police told him, ‘You know, it’s going to be legal in a couple of years.’”  Source.


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