It came as a shock when a bill meant to legalize medical marijuana — introduced Jan. 26 in the legislature — was not proposed by Democratic lawmakers, but by Republicans.

One goal of this bill is to form a Medical Marijuana Regulatory Commission controlled by the Department of Revenue. It would also legalize medical marijuana across the state and make access to health care easier for Wisconsin residents.

Trying to legalize medical marijuana statewide is historically a precursor to legalizing recreational marijuana, as seen in the neighboring state of Illinois. Big steps to legalizing marijuana were made by the Madison City Council in Dec. 2020, in which it became legal to possess and smoke marijuana on land that is publicly accessible and not owned by the state.

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What makes this legislative move in Madison surprising is not the content of the bill itself, but the Republican lawmakers pushing it. What used to be a politically divided issue now appears to have bipartisan support and could affect the perception of marijuana across party lines.

But just as there were conflicts with legalizing recreational marijuana in Madison, tensions have risen with this newly proposed bill. The Madison ordinance faced criticism, as marijuana was still not legalized within the whole state.

Because of this, many local lawmakers have prepared to face legal challenges that arose as a result of the ordinance. This mirrors Wisconsin legislators’ attempts to legalize medical marijuana as the drug is still in the process of being decriminalized at the federal level.

This policy change on the horizon represents a shift in mentality for Wisconsin. If representatives on both sides of the political spectrum are willing to make such a strong move towards the legalization of marijuana, that says something about the greater Wisconsin community.

Perhaps the more traditional values in rural Wisconsin are changing to a less stigmatized view of marijuana — a view that marijuana might actually be a valid medical treatment.

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This stigma shift could be linked to the pandemic, a time in which mental health and taking care of one’s mindset were of the utmost importance. For some, this meant a turn to marijuana usage. A recent study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that Medical marijuana users with mental health issues increased their usage increase by 91% since the start of the pandemic.

This policy change will also affect students on campus, potentially leading to greater marijuana usage by those attending university. It should still be noted that the Madison City Council ordinance does prohibit the use of marijuana on the University of Wisconsin campus, and the bill proposed in the state legislature would likely include a clause in which those under 21 are not allowed the same medical marijuana benefits, as seen in Illinois.

But, legalizing even medical marijuana will make it easier for anyone — even those under 21 — to access and use. A study by the University of Washington found college students and teenagers were more likely to use marijuana after legalization.

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This is a major consequence of legalizing medical marijuana. The use of marijuana is also host to several negative health effects, such as irritation of the lungs, memory impairment, slower reaction times and a weakened immune system.

Despite these consequences, marijuana also provides pain relief, reduces nausea and relieves symptoms of chronic illnesses such as AIDS and glaucoma. These long-term health effects can be seen as both exciting and dangerous, but ultimately, the effects of marijuana are still being researched and differ from person to person.

Though the passing of this bill would allow those with medical issues to find relief, it is important to remember the negative effects marijuana poses on the human body. Further, it would create greater access for teenagers and those without medical licenses to obtain marijuana.

Ultimately, the proposed bill appears to be setting Wisconsin on a track to legalize recreational marijuana throughout the state within the coming years — something Madison has eagerly awaited.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in international relations and journalism.