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Democratic Lawmakers Continue To Push Medical Marijuana Legalization in Wisconsin

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Tim Blakeley, manager of Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary, shows marijuana plant buds on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Some Democratic lawmakers are renewing a push to legalize medical marijuana. They say the move could keep people from using -- and perhaps becoming hooked on -- opioid painkillers. The fate of the proposal is uncertain, though, as long as Republicans control the Legislature.

Democratic state lawmakers trying to gain support to legalize medical marijuana held hearings in five cities this fall. Senator Jon Erpenbach and Representative Chris Taylor wanted to give the public a chance to share their thoughts about the proposal.

Andria Roberts joined the two at their stop in West Allis. Roberts is an eight-year veteran of the US Marine Corps, who has a rare, painful condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which has no cure. However, she says using marijuana has helped ease her pain.

Roberts says it could be used to help treat a lot of other veterans too, and many are interested but hesitate to buy the illegal drug.

“Wisconsin veterans who choose cannabis instead of addictive and largely ineffective prescription pills to treat their service connected injuries, are being forced to incriminate themselves to live in the shadows of society, and to participate in unregulated black market to access effective medication and alternative too opiates,” she says.

Credit Teran Powell
Sen. Jon Erpenbach (Left), Representative Chris Taylor (Middle), and Andria Roberts (Far Right) explain why medical marijuana should be legalized in Wisconsin.

Roberts used to take opioid painkillers, but she says she was able to get off the drugs with the help of using marijuana.

Another person who made the case for medical marijuana was Tori Moerchen. She says she suffers from auto immune and chronic pain disorders.

“I’m taking 5-6 medications and 3-4 different medications just to deal with the side effects of these medications and I don’t want to be taking all these medications; I don’t want to be on an opioid,” Moerchen says.

According to Senator Erpenbach, a great number of Wisconsin residents support allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. He says legalizing it would be the compassionate thing to do.

“It’s not a partisan issue. This cuts across party lines, people from all walks of life, people from all sorts of different backgrounds. The idea that 26 states and the District of Columbia have already done this for medical purposes and Wisconsin is kind of behind the curve when it comes to this, you know there’s a lot of people that would like to see this move forward,” he says.

“Unfortunately, there’s always going to be lawmakers who are resistant to this,” says Becky Dansky of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. The organization works to change marijuana laws.

Credit Teran Powell
Community members who attended the town hall listen to testimony from people who benefit from medical marijuana.

Dansky says critics of legalizing medical marijuana claim it's a gateway drug, and could lead to abuse by teens and even increase crime. She says those fears are unfounded.

“A lot of it has to do with a history of misinformation around marijuana. A lot of that misinformation has stuck and it takes a very long time to re-educate people,” Dansky says.

Some key Republican leaders such as Governor Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald say they’re against allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. They say they're concerned that people could become addicted, or that the change in law would pave the way for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

However, some GOP leaders might be more willing to change the law. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he's open to the idea, within reason.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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