Last week, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, formally announced their plans to introduce the Jackie Rickert Act into the state Legislature, which would legalize marijuana for medicinal use. This particular bill has been introduced before but was left to languish in a Republican-majority Assembly. With both houses of the Legislature now controlled by Democrats, the Jackie Rickert Act might finally have a chance.

As it should. Multiple studies over the last two decades have shown cannabis has definite benefits in the prevention of nausea and vomiting, pain relief and fueling of appetite. For patients of chemotherapy, sufferers of glaucoma, cancer, arthritis and a number of other conditions, marijuana can provide much needed relief whereas FDA-approved drugs provide unwanted side effects that add another element to a patient’s suffering.

While some proponents, including key physicians, are prone to praise, deeming it a “wonder drug” as more tests and applications to different ailments arise, we’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t recognize the range of problems. The medical community cannot come to a consensus on the net medical effects of marijuana because it is primarily smoked. It carries similar health risks as cigarettes and a range of chemicals that adversely affect health through respiratory disease, emphysema and limited motor functions.

However, many of those effects are long term and more common in those who abuse marijuana. Medical marijuana, as stated in the executive summary of the Jackie Rickert Act, is to be used for those with “debilitating” conditions. In many cases, these patients are in such dire pain that any long-term effects of the drug take a backseat to more serious, and in some cases, terminal, conditions that require the sort of treatment an alternative like marijuana can provide.

It is inevitable that some will obtain permission to grow marijuana, yet go beyond the legal limit and distribute it for recreational use. It is also inevitable that law enforcement will have less reason to enforce current laws on the books prohibiting marijuana given a possible reason for its usage. This has already happened in California and is likely to happen on some scale here as well.

That scale, however, is likely to be small and recreational usage is not spurred on by medical marijuana laws themselves. There is an increasing trend toward decriminalization of marijuana in this country. District Attorney Brian Blanchard has all but neutered effective enforcement of the drug in Dane County. As more states are taking steps to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and discussing steps toward decriminalization, any effects on enforcement from medical marijuana are small in the grand scale of the debate over marijuana on a national scale.

This board supports the legalization of medicinal marijuana and would be happy to see other states follow the trend.

Yet, it’s nearly impossible to approach the issue without stumbling over the rather large roadblock to states’ efforts.

In reality, the problem lies in the federal law. Marijuana is still technically illegal on a federal level, even in cases of medicinal usage. However, with the Obama administration stopping raids on medicinal marijuana dispensaries and the most liberal members of the U.S. House of Representatives (including Wisconsin’s own Rep. Tammy Baldwin) pushing for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, it is time this country starts looking toward full-scale legalization.

While decriminalization is a step in the right direction, we must realize that unregulated and unenforced marijuana sales allow the proliferation of a black market that includes much more illicit drugs and encourages unrestricted drug trade that has resulted in countless deaths and security concerns both in this country and south of the border.

If the United States moves toward an acknowledgment of marijuana as a medicinal and recreational drug, it must do so with regulation in mind. Any decriminalization should be passed with an effort toward subsequent legalization and regulation of the market for this drug. With marijuana distribution in legal limbo following decriminalization, those who have provided drugs through black market narco-trafficking and violent means will have more of an opening than ever before. The quicker legitimate businesses can corner the market on such a commodity and shut the black market out of the vast majority of this business, the more taxes can be reaped from those profits and the less money the law enforcement needs to spend on that aspect of drug enforcement.

So while this bill is a sensible step in the right direction, the discussion on marijuana itself needs to come to a national stage. Especially when the states will likely make it an issue, eventually.