New Day, New Opportunity to Show Leadership for Seriously Ill in Wisconsin

By Senator Jon Erpenbach and Representative Chris Taylor, co-authors of medical marijuana bill

The face of medical marijuana has changed as our country and community seek to find creative, affordable and safe treatment for individuals affected by opioid abuse and suffering from serious illnesses, including cancer and ALS. Doctor recommended medical cannabis should be available as a medical option for those patients fighting debilitating diseases. The time is now for Wisconsin to join the majority of states and legalize medical marijuana by passing Senate Bill 38/Assembly Bill 75.

For over ten years in Wisconsin, Democratic Legislators and advocates have been fighting for gravely ill individuals. This session, rather than the courtesy of listening to their stories, a few powerful legislators are using their positions and mistruths to keep affordable medicine out of the hands of those who need it the most.

Meanwhile, our opioid and resulting heroin crisis here in Wisconsin continues to escalate. Medical marijuana for pain management for some patients could be a less harmful and safer alternative for individuals who would normally be prescribed opioids and be at greater risk of addiction. According to a recent study, Medical Cannabis Laws and Opioid Mortality, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, opioid overdose deaths were reduced by 25% in states with effective medical marijuana laws. As policy makers, we are willing to pass bill after bill in an effort to get a handle on the opioid crisis in our communities. But when it comes to legalizing marijuana for seriously ill patients to manage pain and other debilitating health conditions, we cannot even get a public hearing on this issue in the Republican-controlled legislature.

Wisconsin lags behind on this issue. Twenty-nine other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, including four neighboring states – Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa. Veterans’ organizations including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and The American Legion have passed resolutions supporting medical marijuana for veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic pain and other injuries incurred in service. Veteran’s Affairs (VA) data shows that one-third of all veterans in their care received opioids for pain management. Sadly, data also shows that VA patients had nearly twice the rate of fatal accidental overdoses than adults in the general population.

The patient population who could greatly benefit from legalizing medical marijuana continues to grow and the support in our state and nationally is overwhelming. How is it that when 89% of the nation supports legalizing medical marijuana, Republican leadership in our state continues to refuse to even hear the public on the issue by giving our bill a public hearing? Perhaps they are in the grips of the big pharmaceutical industry, which fears legalizing marijuana for medical purposes will cut into their fat corporate profits. Perhaps it is their own beliefs and biases. None of these excuses make up for failing to provide a treatment option for Wisconsinites that really sick patients can access in 29 other states. Treatment that cancer patients can receive. Treatment that veterans can receive. Treatment that patients dealing with painful, serious illness can receive instead of opting for addictive, harmful opioids. But treatment that is denied to Wisconsinites.

It is our hope that the personal biases and excuses that have driven this bill into the ground for the last decade can experience the swell of support we know exists for medical marijuana as a treatment option for sick patients when their physician approves. It is our hope that this time, common sense and human dignity will win.