Pubdate: Sat, 15 Dec 2001
Source: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (WI)
Copyright: 2001 Eau Claire Press
Author: Doug Mell, managing editor


Assembly Republicans should at least allow a floor vote on a bill that 
would legalize the medical use of marijuana. Or perhaps they should give 
voters a chance to weigh in on the issue.

It didn't take long after two Democratic legislators introduced the bill 
for a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen to throw cold water on it.

"This topic has been a perennial loser here in the Assembly that has done a 
lot to define Madison liberals but not much to impact the debate," said 
Steve Baas, a spokesman for Jensen, R-Waukesha.

But people like Jacki Rickert aren't Madison liberals. Far from it. She's 
just a woman from Mondovi who believes that smoking marijuana gives her the 
kind of relief from disease that other drugs can't.

Rickert only weighs 90 pounds, due to the effects of two diseases, but that 
is an improvement from the 68 pounds she used to weigh before she started 
smoking marijuana to stimulate her appetite and control nausea.

Rickert has fought a long and hard battle to get into a federal program to 
allow her legal marijuana. Some four years ago she traveled the 210 miles 
to Madison to push for a bill like the one introduced this week.

"We all want to live life to the fullest," Rickert said in a statement this 
week. "not having to worry if our doors are going to be rammed in .."

The bill, she said, "would allow sick and/or dying patients a quality of 
life rather than merely existing."

The authors of the bill are Reps. Frank Boyle, D-Superior, and Mark Pocan, 
D-Madison. The have signed up the Wisconsin Nurses Association for support.

The bill would allow people to grow or buy marijuana if their doctor gave 
them a statement consenting to its use for medical purposes. The bill also 
would allow nonprofit corporations to produce and distribute medical 
marijuana if they were licensed and regulated by the state Department of 
Health and Family Services.

While some politicians may balk at the bill, it has garnered popular 
support all across the country. Voters in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, 
Nevada, Oregon and Washington have approved ballot initiatives allowing the 
use of medical marijuana. Only one state, Hawaii, got a medical-marijuana 
bill passed by the Legislature, and it was used as the framework for the 
current Wisconsin proposal.

Besides the GOP leadership in the Assembly, the bill also faces the 
formidable opposition of the Wisconsin Medical Society. The doctors group 
supports ending the legal barriers to clinical trials involving medical 
marijuana but not going the step farther and legalizing its use in a 
medical setting.

Some doctors believe that its effectiveness has not been proved and the 
bill carries too many risks, such as increased illegal drug use.

Of course that risk is there. But an assortment of drugs that are 
prescribed every day in Wisconsin are abused, and the Medical Society 
doesn't advocate that they be banned.

If the Assembly Republicans can't bring themselves to at least vote on the 
Boyle-Pocan bill, why not schedule an advisory referendum in Wisconsin 
asking residents what they prefer?

The referendum would foster a good debate on this topic and could give 
lawmakers some direction on how to proceed.

- -- Doug Mell, managing editor
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom