Arguments heat up in WI

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Medical marijuana bill divides observers

http://www.wausaudailyherald.com

Opponents of a bill that would allow marijuana use for medical purposes in Wisconsin say there’s not enough evidence the change is needed in the state.

Introduced by state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, the proposed Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act would give patients with various chronic conditions the option to get a prescription for the drug from their doctors.

However, the issue, which previously failed to gain traction when Democratic lawmakers introduced the bill a few years ago, is not a topic of discussion at the Capitol, said state Rep. Scott Krug, R-Wisconsin Rapids, who does not support the legislation.

“I don’t think the science is there yet,” Krug said, calling the bill’s introduction a publicity stunt for Pocan, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat. “It’s not that time in Wisconsin right now.”

The bill would create a medical necessity defense for marijuana-related prosecutions if a person has a valid prescription from a physician and an ID card from the state Department of Health Services for such conditions as cancer, glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, according to a news release from Pocan and Erpenbach. Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia allow such use of the otherwise illegal drug.

“Patients with a debilitating medical condition should not live in fear of being prosecuted for using marijuana to ease their pain or aid their healing,” Erpenbach said in the release. “People deserve compassionate, legal treatment prescribed by their doctor.”

Officials at the Wisconsin Medical Society have said they think researchers first need to further study the effects of marijuana on patients.

Dr. James Cleary, a palliative care physician at the UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison, agreed with the Medical Society’s position, saying prescription medications that mirror the effects of marijuana already exist and officials should consider those medications first.

“If this is to be used as a medical product, let’s do the appropriate studies,” Cleary said, noting the Food and Drug Administration’s classification as a Schedule 1 medication limits such research. “Let’s change the schedule of this medication. Let’s have appropriate controls if we’re going to do it.”

The Medical Society recognizes the therapeutic effects of marijuana, but many medical professionals are leery about letting people smoke it, which might encourage smoking in general, Cleary said, noting a company in England currently is studying the feasibility of creating an inhaled version of the drug, known as Sativex.

“If, in fact, we are doing so much on tobacco (prevention), why would we approve a product that you’re smoking?” Cleary said.

Meanwhile, Jacki Rickert of Mondovi, founder of the Madison-based advocacy group Is My Medicine Legal YET?, said there should be urgency with the bill that bears her name.

“They need it now, not next time,” Rickert said in a statement. “How many people are going to have a next time? Maybe next time I won’t be around. … Things really need to be done to make it a reality.”

Wood County Sheriff’s Department Investigator-Sgt. Scott Saeger, the county’s drug enforcement officer, said making medical marijuana legal likely would not affect the way law enforcement agencies handle drug cases. He compared the bill to the recently enacted concealed carry law.

“If they had their identification on them — if they’ve got their proper credentials — they’re OK,” Saeger said, noting patients using their prescriptions to supply others with the drug could lead to misuse. “It could definitely become a sticky situation — just like any other law in the state.”

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