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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008

Could Wisconsin Be Next?

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Could Wisconsin Be Next?

On Nov. 4, Michigan became the 13th state to legalize medical marijuana when 63% of its voters approved a grassroots-supported ballot initiative. Now, a quarter of all Americans live in a medical marijuana state.

But even though 80% of Wisconsin residents approve of legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients, the state does not allow voters to ratify a program through the ballot initiative process, as Michigan did. Instead, medical marijuana supporters must urge the state Legislature to pass a bill in both houses that also would be supported by the governor.

Unfortunately, attempts to get a well-thought-out bill through the state Legislature have failed in past years, even with bipartisan support among lawmakers.

But Gary Storck, spokesman for Is My Medicine Legal Yet? (IMMLY), said he’s “fairly confident” that a Democratically controlled state Legislature will legalize medical marijuana in the next session. “It’s becoming more of a mainstream issue,” Storck said. “And it would be really wrong to delay something that got such strong support in Michigan. I think it would be incredibly cruel to string it out. The groundwork has already been done.”

He said the Legislature should act quickly to save people’s lives. “I know people who are having a really hard time every day because they don’t have legal access to medical marijuana,” Storck said. “Their situations are so dire that they’re not going to see it in their lifetime, even if it is passed in the next session.”

While most medical marijuana users are coping with cancer treatments, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and chronic pain, Storck added that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or brain injuries may also benefit from medical marijuana use. Other research indicates that using marijuana may forestall Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

What’s more, Storck argued that the state as a whole would benefit economically from cannabis research and a legal medical marijuana industry. “It’s an industry with a lot of jobs,” Storck said. “And we can have it here really easily.”

Storck is also encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal on Dec. 1 to review a case concerning California’s medical marijuana law. He said it shows that even the highest court in the land has decided to respect state laws in this area, despite a 2005 court decision that seemed to give the federal government more power over state-level medical marijuana programs. “This is a case with ramifications in Wisconsin,” Storck said. “There isn’t a gray area anymore. The Supreme Court said that law enforcement should uphold state law first.”

Storck said that a Milwaukee-area NORML chapter is in the works; those who are interested can contact him at www.immly.org or the state chapter of NORML at www.winorml.org.

—Lisa Kaiser