The new bill would be one step closer to legalizing marijuana as promoted every year at Harvest Fest.[/media-credit]

Following the lead of neighboring states Minnesota and Michigan, Wisconsin lawmakers introduced a bill Monday that could legalize marijuana for medical use.

At a press conference Monday, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, introduced the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, which would allow people suffering from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS to use cannabis as relief for pain associated with the diseases.

The bill also lists post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy as conditions that could allow patients to receive prescriptions for cannabis.

The bill would allow for the distribution of up to 3 ounces of marijuana to individual patients from “compassion centers” throughout the state or would allow patients to grow up to 12 marijuana plants on their property for medicinal use.

According to Erpenbach, the legislation singles out especially debilitating diseases as qualifications for a medical marijuana prescription, but does not limit the allowance to those illnesses. He said the state’s Department of Health Services will compile a list of additional ailments that could qualify for cannabis use.

Erpenbach said there are restrictions included in the bill that will prevent patients from driving or operating heavy machinery while under the influence of medical marijuana.

He added medicinal cannabis is still the best way to find any source of relief from pain, stimulating appetite and holding food throughout serious illness.

Pocan said the bill is part of healthcare reforms currently taking effect across the country. He added the distribution centers will be nonprofit institutions.

“This issue is first and foremost about compassion,” Pocan said. “A patient and their doctor should have as many options as possible available when treating a patient’s condition.”

Pocan said he expects Gov. Jim Doyle to sign the bill into law as long as the requirement for a prescription stays in the bill. Doyle previously told the Capital Times he is not opposed to the idea of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Julie Laundrie, spokesperson for Erpenbach, said the bill will ensure medical marijuana is distributed responsibly and not for recreational purposes.

“It’s a decision between an individual and their doctor,” Laundrie said. “It’s not going to be an easy process at all.”

Laundrie added the legislation will help many Wisconsin hospice patients.

Kimber Liedl, spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the Senate Republican Caucus has not yet discussed the bill, but Fitzgerald currently opposes the idea of medical marijuana.

However, she said Fitzgerald is still investigating the matter and reviewing research on the use of marijuana for medicinal practices.

“[Fitzgerald] is open to looking at some research about the issue,” Liedl said.

Medicinal marijuana has already been legalized in 13 states, while 17 states are considering legislation that would legalize its use. According to documents from Pocan’s office, Illinois is considering similar legislation, while Minnesota’s Legislature passed a bill that was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Michigan voters allowed medical marijuana in a statewide referendum last year.

Pocan said the bill will be considered in a Dec. 15 hearing for the Assembly Committee on Public Health.