Two Democratic legislators reintroduced controversial legislation giving patients the right to use medicinal marijuana with a prescription.
At a press conference Wednesday, Representative Mark Pocan, D-Madison, reintroduced the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act.
The legislation, sponsored by Pocan and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, would give patients with certain debilitating diseases and conditions access to medicinal marijuana with a prescription from their doctor without fear of prosecution.
According to a statement from Pocan’s office, 16 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized medicinal marijuana. In the statement, Pocan said a majority of the public supports the practice of medicinal marijuana.
“This is an issue where people are clearly way ahead of the policy makers,” Pocan said. “The Wisconsin Legislature needs to catch up with the public and pass this bill because making medical marijuana legal is the right and compassionate thing to do for patients in pain.”
Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said similar medicinal marijuana bills have been presented to the legislature in years past.
He said members of both parties have shown opposition to medicinal marijuana legalization. A medicinal marijuana bill presented last year when Democrats were in control of both houses and the office of the governor didn’t make it out of committee.
He said medicinal marijuana legislation does not have the support necessary to become law.
“If that support was there, [the bill] would have passed last session when the Democrats were in control,” Welhouse said.
Angela Janis, a board certified psychiatrist and a member of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said there is strong evidence marijuana helps patients who are suffering.
She said evidence has shown marijuana can help ease pain for patients with a number of terminal illnesses. Patients suffering from cancer, side effects from chemotherapy, HIV, chronic pain, glaucoma and muscle spasms, including symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis, could benefit from a prescription to medicinal marijuana.
Janis said medicinal marijuana would mostly be meant for patients suffering from debilitating or life-ending illnesses. Moreover, she said marijuana has only been shown to potentially cause brain damage in adolescents.
However, Janis said there are prescription drugs available to adults that are more dangerous than marijuana, such as Valium. She said marijuana is virtually impossible to overdose on, unlike opiates like morphine.
Janis said a stigma exists around marijuana which does not exist for drugs of equal or greater harm. She said the federal government makes it more difficult for research to be done on marijuana than on more harmful drugs.
Janis said the current political climate presents a challenge for getting the bill passed. However, she said she remains hopeful the bill will receive support from members of both parties.
“I can write a prescription for anything,” she said. “There are a lot of dangerous drugs out there that we already use. We know the pitfalls of marijuana, and the benefits outweigh the risks.”