Nobody wants to be a criminal. That’s the thought that crosses John’s mind each night as he gets ready for bed. Part of his nightly routine involves breaking the law, but he isn’t losing any sleep over it. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

John (not his real name) uses medical marijuana to manage the chronic, neuropathic pain that he’s lived with for the past nine years. Surgery to correct a herniated disc left scar tissue that put pressure on a root nerve, causing unbearable pain in his leg and foot. During the day he could keep himself distracted enough to cope, but at night he would lie awake in agony — sometimes going as many as five nights without sleep.

“It’s like stepping on a nail,” he said.

His doctors at Gundersen Health System, unable to treat the source of his pain, tried to treat the symptoms. A long list of powerful opiates did little to dull the ache, and the side effects left him walking in a constant fog.

“My mind is what I am,” he said. “When I can’t think clearly, I’m crippled.”

He tried acupuncture, an inversion table, homemade pressure braces for his foot. He’s had anti-inflammatory medicine injected into the base of his spine. He’s seen four physical therapists, including one in the Twin Cities whom he took 15 round trips to see, paying for his visits out of pocket. A spinal specialist in Madison finally told him he was among the 1 percent of patients who would never get relief.

As a last resort, John turned to marijuana. In his younger years, he “used to smoke a little pot,” but now, in his 70s, he says he has no interest in getting high. Intrigued by the drug’s potential as a pain reliever and out of other options, he ate a pot brownie before bedtime. He slept through the night.

“This stuff has worked wonderfully for me when nothing else did,” he said. “I have friends with cancer and chronic pain — I know this could help them too. But if I were to offer them some, would I be a friend, or would I be a felon?”

Breaking the law

There are thousands of Wisconsin residents illegally using medical marijuana, said Gary Storck, a Madison medical marijuana activist who co-founded the Wisconsin and Madison chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the nonprofit IMMLY (Is My Medicine Legal Yet?).

“So many people have been forced into making that choice,” said Storck, who has used marijuana to treat his glaucoma for decades. “People are going to do it anyway, if they’re willing to break the law.”

But if some Wisconsin lawmakers have their way, they won’t have to. Previous attempts to pass a medical marijuana legalization bill in Wisconsin have failed, but that won’t stop Democrats from trying again this year.

Sen. John Erpenbach of Middleton and Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison will introduce a legalization bill when the legislature reconvenes for its fall session. This is the third time Erpenbach has co-sponsored such a bill; Taylor is taking the place of former Rep. Mark Pocan, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

“It will be tough this time,” Erpenbach said. “It was tough last time when Democrats were in the majority.”

This year’s version of the bill remains essentially unchanged from the 2012 version which died in committee, Erpenbach said. It would provide a “medical necessity” defense for marijuana-related prosecutions, which means that Wisconsin residents may “acquire, possess, cultivate, transport or utilize” marijuana if they have a registry identification card from the Department of Health Services, a valid out-of-state registry identification card or a written certification from a physician, according to the bill’s most recent version.

The law limits the amount a cardholder can legally possess to 12 plants and three ounces of marijuana leaves or flowers. The drug would be dispensed at marijuana dispensaries, known as “compassion centers,” which would be licensed and regulated by the DHS.

Local opinions

Support for the bill among La Crosse area elected officials is strong, although the region is primarily represented by Democrats. Rep. Chris Danou of Trempealeau has co-sponsored the two previously introduced legalization bills and plans to do so again this year.

“If something has the potential to work for (patients), has demonstrated that it can make life a little more bearable and more comfortable, why should we deny you that?” he said.

A former police officer, Danou said he’s confident law enforcement can adapt to the changes if marijuana becomes legal and treat the drug’s use the same way they treat alcohol consumption.

“It’s already illegal to drive under the influence,” he said.

Rep. Steve Doyle of Onalaska said he would support the legislation, assuming the final version of bill includes the restrictions that the drug is used by people with legitimate medical conditions.

“From what I’ve seen with the experiences in other states, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of outright abuse,” he said.

The region’s lone Republican, Westby’s Rep. Lee Nerison, did not return phone calls seeking comment, but he’s sided with Democrats before.

But would it pass? Not likely, said Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse. Like other area Democrats, she said she would likely vote for the bill if it made it through committee, but noted that both the Senate and Assembly health committees are chaired by Republicans. Sen. Leah Vukmir of Waukesha is a vocal opponent to legalizing medical marijuana and Rep. Erik Severson of Star Prairie said he would not give the bill a hearing.

“I don’t have a sense that the leadership in the Senate or the Assembly has any interest in passing the law,” Shilling said.

Doyle and Danou are skeptical as well, citing the need for moderate or libertarian-leaning lawmakers to make the bill a priority.

“It’s been hanging around for a while,” Doyle said. “I don’t see the prospects as great.”

The research

Marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942 and was once widely prescribed for a variety of ailments including epilepsy, nausea and rheumatism.

But since the passage of the Controlled Substance Act in 1970, the federal government has classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which means it has “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, Quaaludes and peyote.

Schedule I classification presents a significant roadblock for researchers, but in 2000, the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research began a series of clinical human trials through the University of California – San Diego.

“I don’t know of any comparable research effort anywhere,” said J.H. Atkinson, CMCR’s co-director. “It’s certainly the most comprehensive piece of research on the medical aspect of cannabis in the last 40 years, at least in the U.S.”

Over the past decade, CMCR studied the effect of smoked cannabis on neuropathic pain, a hard-to-treat condition caused by infectious disease, diabetes and nerve injury from physical trauma.

“The results were pretty much congruent,” Atkinson said. “Cannabis had a marked effect — such that about 50 percent of people got at least 30 percent pain relief.”

Atkinson hesitates to call the results conclusive, but said CMCR’s findings showed promise.

As more research findings emerge, medical organizations are taking note. Both Mayo Clinic Health System and Gundersen Health System have published articles on the drug’s effectiveness in internal publications. The Wisconsin Nurses Association favors legalization.

The Wisconsin Medical Society opposes medical marijuana legislation, not because the drug isn’t effective, but because it involves the approval of a new drug by a legislative act rather than the standard drug approval process through the FDA, said Dr. Michael Miller, vice speaker of the WMS.

“Medical marijuana is a political issue, not a medical issue,” he said. “Physicians have been co-opted into taking a political act (when they) write a permission that allows a patient to avoid prosecution.”

He noted that the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is already available and legal in an oral drug called Marinol, which is used to treat nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite in AIDS patients.

“(The Wisconsin Medical Society) strongly supports more research on smoked marijuana,” Miller said. “We just don’t have information yet.”

Miller also cautioned that marijuana has its risks. Studies have shown that the drug can precipitate schizophrenia among individuals with a genetic predisposition for the condition, and about 9 percent of people who use the drug could become addicted, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse. Smoking, which is the most common way to administer the drug, carries risk as well.

“The general assumption that it’s broadly safe is not supported by the evidence,” he said.

More public support

Pew Center data shows that public support for marijuana legalization has risen steadily over the past several decades, and for the first time this year, the majority favors legalization.

As of Aug. 1, 20 states plus Washington, D.C., have some form of legalized marijuana. The states with the most lenient marijuana laws are Colorado and Washington, where the drug is legal for medicinal and recreational use. Other states place strict limitations on how much a patient can legally possess and many laws prevent people from growing their own.

There are four states with pending legislation that would legalize medical marijuana. Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio all had bills introduced this year that were not voted on this legislative session, but they all carry over for consideration in 2014.

Thirteen other states had legislation introduced this year that would have legalized or decriminalized medical marijuana. Those proposals died at the committee level or when the legislative session ended.

While it seems unlikely that Wisconsin will follow suit, Erpenbach and Taylor say it’s only a matter of time, and they’ll continue to introduce a medical marijuana legalization bill until it passes.

“This is something the Wisconsin majority has supported for a while now,” Erpenbach said. “The Legislature is behind the curve.”

(43) comments

Iconoclast

I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of my home state Colorado. Life has always been rather good out here but in the last few years it is even better. I was a major supporter of Amendment 64 and we have started a long overdue and necessary challenging of our federal drug laws that is having positive repurcussions world wide. Folks, the emperor has no clothes and we have been victimized of our rights for far too long. If you truly wish to change your world for the better don't be afraid to confront your government and force them to do the right thing. Trust me, it feels great! Be vocal, be everywhere and don't give them a moment's rest until they have been forced to hear you and comply with public will. Anything less is just giving in to mindless institutional tyranny and trust me, you don't have to live like that!

TotemPole

the war on pot has been one of the biggest political wastes of resources and money in American history. legalize it, tax it, move on.

superman
superman

I'm not quite sure what Walker has against drugs. Everyone knows he's addicted to KOCH!

superman
superman

Not sure what Walker has against drugs. Everyone knows he's addicted to KOCH!

badboy

Napoleon, Pot is safer than the Viagra you take for your time alone.
There are many successful professionals in IT, medicine, law enforcement, politics, practicing law and business who are "hippie potheads" and when they comment on posts they have intelligent original thoughts rather than cutting and pasting. Heck the surgeon who performed your lobotomy may have been a stoner....

Mommyof2

Completely agree! And just because people will abuse the system doesn't mean that the people that actually will use it properly need to suffer. There are many pain pills and alcohol that abused illegally everyday! So I really don't get Napoleon's point. Would be interested in his/her fact checker on how many people are killed by someone driving drunk or on narcotics vises those high ONLY on marijuana.

FUBAR

badboy - 6 hours ago Napoleon, Pot is safer than the Viagra you take for your time alone.

Sure, but who can get it up on pot?

Contact your doctor if your HIGH lasts more than 4 hours.

FUBAR

Always take your drivers license pic STONED, that way whenever you get pulled over, the cop will think you always look like that.

"They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do, just as well. You just realize that it's not worth the freaking effort. There is a difference."
-Bill Hicks

Deadwood subscriber
Deadwood subscriber

+1

The only problem: stoned drivers are usually the ones obeying the traffic laws! (Unless there is a speed minimum, in which case, insert joke here.)

Kat Campbell

The other fact I've learned is that pot is a scape goat for every drug addict. I been through their "drug support groups" and every last one is a hard drug addict and an alcoholic but only admits to being a pot head.

Kat Campbell

The real story is beer is addictive and it kills. I never met one person who drinks just one beer once and a while. No when they drink it's 3-6 a day and every day. This goes for every last beer drinker I've ever met. It makes people ugly and slow. You'de think 1/2 the people out there are mentally slow..No, they just drink beer. I never met one pot head who was slow or mentally challenged.

Deadwood subscriber
Deadwood subscriber

Leave your house once in a while, Kat. You might meet me, someone who drinks a beer every day but rarely has more than two. I'm fit, attractive, and an athlete.

And I have many a stoner friend who is fat and stupid.

You simply can't generalize like that. (Unless we're talking about meth.)

Hatchetman

Never happen,as long as Walker and his Fascist Rep#blicans write the laws in Wisconsin!

olderthandirt

Legalize it! If pot can help someone with their pain, why not make it available legally. The cost and prison results of the war on drugs is very sad. Let people choose for themselves......

mommy2012

should be passed!!! there is so many good things and Im a white woman and black men arent attractive so idk what that fool who commented earlier is thinking

this isnt a drug!!!

unloco

legalize it

Bill O'Rights

The article should have covered the fact that the National Cancer Institute has, in effect, accepted the validity of a number of research projects that have shown that MARIJUANA CAN KILL CANCER CELLS!! I wonder why this has not been given prominent media coverage. Here is the link to the site: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page4

If one of us had cancer that was getting worse, do you think we would want to be able to legally obtain some marijuana?

Napoleon
Napoleon

Wasn't shark cartilage the cure-all for cancer a while back too? Copper bracelets for arthritis, tornado rods cure tornadoes....

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/pharmacologicalandbiologicaltreatment/shark-cartilage

Napoleon
Napoleon

The cry for 'medical' marijuana isn't coming from the medical community, it's coming from ex-hippies who just want to get high. I call fakeroo!

Anyhow, if you want to get doped up, you've already got religion, TV, fast food, p_rn, the interwebs, cigs and booze. Was gonna say somethin' else, but I fergot it....

"Marijuana can have wide-ranging effects, such as short-term memory loss and increased heart rate."

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/06/nih-marijuana-effects/1751011/

"THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, "hijacks and corrupts" the natural process of endocannabinoids, a key family of chemicals that help guide the brain in proper maturation, says Ruben Baler, a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). These chemicals "play key roles in memory formation, learning, decision-making," says Baler."

Bill O'Rights

Did you understand the fact that Gundersen Health System, Mayo Clinic and the National Cancer Institute are backing the medical efficacy of marijuana? Or do you think those 3 institutions are all controlled by people who only want to get high?

Napoleon
Napoleon

I'm for prescription THC to cancer patients where medically necessary,.. not smoked marijuana to ex-hippies just looking to get high. Big difference between the two.

Mostly, though, we're going to see this sort of stuff:

"Making a fake Medical Marijuana Hard card"

http://www.zoklet.net/bbs/showthread.php?t=264523

"BUSTED #6 MEDICAL MARIJUANA + A FAKE I.D"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-aHCURDnxE

lookout

I suggest you go out and break your back, trash some nerves, then try it, see if your pain goes down. Other wise you don't have a clue as to what your talking about. Living with that kind of pain is a lot more than a sore back and it does help. I can't believe some people who think they know it all.

Napoleon
Napoleon

I've had a back injury too, from playing basketball... very painful. Blew off the pain pills because I was tough.

Are you aware that there are legal anti-pain prescription drugs right now? Do you think that marijuana in smoked form is the only thing out there for pain?

lookout

Your insulting. I've been through every kind of pain med. and therapy anyone could think of. Do you really think people with this kind of problem are that stupid, to just go with taking cannabis without trying everything they could to get relief? People will do anything to get away from real pain, and try everything they can. WoW! You need to get out of the house more. I know you spend everyday inside, so a little advise, take yourself out of your own little world, there's a really big one outside your door.

lookout

A pulled muscle is nothing like nerve pain, not even close. Pulled muscle, my god how tough you are.

Napoleon
Napoleon

lookout - 1 hour ago "A pulled muscle is nothing like nerve pain, not even close. Pulled muscle, my god how tough you are."

Show me where I said I had a pulled muscle. Not a pulled muscle, no. Do you think you're the only one who has suffered pain? Anyhow, marijuana is not going to relieve severe back pain. You need a far more potent drug than that. Even lowly aspirin beats marijuana as a back pain drug. Make medical marijuana legal and, like magic, half the nation will come down with a herniated disc.

lookout: "Your insulting"

You're, not your.

lookout: "a little advise"

Advice, not advise.

You have, however, made a good case for one possible use of medical marijuana: reading your poorly-constructed comments today was very painful.

Comment deleted.
Napoleon
Napoleon

baywatch: "Incarcerating someone for using this plant is RIDICULOUS."

Agreed. Incarcerating dealers, not ridiculous.

If there's a true medical need, as prescribed by a legitimate doctor, THC or even cocaine for the very sick and dying might be a good thing. Stub yer toe, smoke a joint, however, doesn't wash.

Comment deleted.
Stop and Think

"(and ruining their lives in the process)........but for the person charged with a marijuana offense, the damage is ever lasting - a criminal record, future job prospects, their livelihood, their family, and their future."

It is illegal right now. Don't blame the cops for doing thier job. Cops don't ruin the lives of people committing crimes. If you don't want a record, fine or jailtime....don't commit the crime. It's that simple.

As far as legalization goes, I couldn't care less either way. Jobs will still test for it (probably more) for insurance purposes. Any work related injury or accident will warrant a test and ultimately a firing if in the system. It will create job openings for clean people.

Stop and Think

So, baywatch...do you feel sorry for those that get speeding tickets? You know, that jackass that tailgates you on the interestate until he can pass you...and then blows by you?!? Then, 2 miles down the road, you see him pulled over. Do you feel bad for him? But what if he was just blowing off steam after a stressful day????

"Victimize innocent people"...there you go again. IT IS ILLEGAL RIGHT NOW...what don't you get about that? Or, by innocent, do you mean those innocent people that BREAK THE LAW? If a person is using medicinally or therapeutically (still illegal in this state), don't leave the house and get caught!!! You must have missed the part about how I couldn't care less if they leagalized, so....thank you for not boring me with the stats of those who support it. BTW, I never said they should be incarcerated.

Stop and Think

"Guess what? If my job got in the way of my morality and required me to victimize innocent people, I'd find a new job thank you very much."

So, if you were a cop, and someone was breaking the law as it stands now....you are saying you would not give that person a ticket? Corrupt?!?! Doesn't seem very moral of a person who has sworn to uphold the LAW.

Deadwood subscriber
Deadwood subscriber

Will religion, TV, fast food, etc. stimulate the endocannabinoid system? No, they won't.

Most of the time you are spot on, Napoleon, but you also have this mean recalcitrant streak, and it isn't serving you in this debate.

And to your quote, the endocannabinoid system evolved 600 million years ago. Humans retained it throughout their evolution. Stimulating this system in moderation is beneficial to the body.

Jobaba

The majority support medical Mary Jane...in Wisconsin that means it ain't happening.

Zen

I;m wasted!

12345

Let's get real. On a strictly recreational dialogue, Marijuana is NOT a drug. In about 2 weeks, the streets of LAX will be lined with people on a mission to drink themselves comatose (don't get me wrong, I love the parade. It's a blast). We can kill ourselves with alcohol, tobacco, & obesity. But not weed, that would corrupt young people and destroy society. If it can help chemo patients, that's great. Let's make it available to everyone, sick and well.

superman
superman

You have my vote.

unclebob

Unfortunately for patients, the TCRA was written with the expectation the federal government would supply the medical cannabis as they hold a monopoly on legal supplies. Apparently some of us would rather still believe Anslinger.
"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US,
and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers.
Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage.
This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations
with Negroes, entertainers and any others."
Harry J. Anslinger
testimony to US Congress supporting Marihuana Tax Act, 1937

unclebob

Wisconsin passed a bipartisan medicinal cannabis law in 1981, L.B. 697. LB 697 cleared the State Assembly on Feb. 23, 1982 by a 77-19 margin. On March 23, 1982 it passed the State Senate by a nearly unanimous 32-1 vote.
961.34 Controlled substances therapeutic research. Upon the request of any practitioner, the controlled substances board shall aid the practitioner in applying for and processing an investigational drug permit for marijuana under 21 USC 355 (i). If the federal food and drug administration issues an investigational drug permit, the controlled substances board shall approve which pharmacies can distribute the marijuana to patients upon written prescription. Only pharmacies located within hospitals are eligible to receive the marijuana for distribution. The controlled substances board shall also approve which practitioners can write prescriptions for the marijuana.

True Patriot

walker has spent 100 billion in the last decade creating political prisons. he will not stop now. Walker wants everything illegal just like in Kochs mother Russia.

you think you know

Please please please try to name one source that Walker has spent $100 billion! A decade?! He was certainly busy as County Executive then!

superman
superman

Walker is a Crack Pot.

But you sir are a Crack Head.

True Patriot

Wisconsin is owned by ALEC. ALEC owns Prison Corporation of America. ALEC wants everything for child drinking milk to children walking to school illegal. Then they can put them in jails. ALEC with walker has forced 1000`s of innocent people to serve decades in Wisconsin jails for personal gain to Scott walker as the record shows. It has made the state crime rates higher than most and has allow murder by cop to be a everyday thing. Walker`s political prisons will not allow anything legal or good to happen. Walker is the son of a fake preacher man.

burnout
burnout

Reading your posts is justification enough to keep marijuana illegal. Marijuana can enhance paranoia ... and your opinion is that of a person who needs anti-psychotic meds prescribed by a licensed physician.

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/SeniorChieftain/media/Prozac%20can%20help/haldol4.jpg.html

True Patriot

Barney Fife and The Police State The episode : Sherriff has to go out of town (for 8 hrs.) so he puts Barney Fife (his deputy) in charge and tells him to just keep the town quiet until he gets back. When he gets back he is pleasantly surprised because the town is very quiet. He is pleasantly surprised until he walks in his office and sees the entire town behind bars. Barney had locked up everyone in town including the mayor. Now as funny as this show is….there is much teaching and truth in these old episodes. Barney represents the undisciplined police officer. Undisciplined as far as personal growth is concerned. Undisciplined as far as hunger for power is concerned. Undisciplined as far as not using common sense and common courtesy as a human being first and foremost and an officer of the peace second. Yes….the power of being a policeman is like a drug. The power that comes with being a policeman is addicting I’m sure. . Anyway… we got barney going off in 2013.

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