Wisconsin Senate and Assembly consider bill this month.
December 2, 2009 – Linda Moon felt crippled by medications prescribed for her by doctors.
“For three years, I laid in bed. I was almost comatose, and couldn’t move,” she said.
One day, the 50-year-old Fond du Lac woman threw away 25 different kinds of pills and turned to marijuana to treat chronic conditions that had left her disabled.
“I was able to get food in my system. I could get out of bed and I had a personality again,” Moon said.
She is among the supporters of a state medical marijuana bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, a person with a prescription from a doctor could obtain up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary or grow up to 12 plants at home.
The Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act would cover people with cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other diseases that could be labeled serious medical conditions.
In October, the Obama administration announced that the federal government will not prosecute users or distributors of medicinal marijuana as long as they follow state laws. The announcement is the latest part of a trend that has seen several states, including Minnesota, take an increased interest in the issue.
Currently, 13 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
Teresa Shepherd of Jackson chairs the community outreach committee for the new Milwaukee chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
A gymnast and martial artist, the 34-year-old suffers from fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and arthritis.
“The medications I was given made me sicker than I was,” said Shepherd, mentioning Vicodin and Lyrica. “I have been unable to work for over a year now. I didn’t think there was any hope.”
Marijuana use put her back on her feet, with no side effects.
“The people coming forward — they aren’t just trying to get high,” Shepherd said. “These are intelligent people who do not want to live on disability.”
Shepherd said she goes through about an ounce and a half each month, obtained through people she most likely would not talk to otherwise in the black market.
“I’m coming forward for every fibromyalgia patient out there. I’m tired of the suffering,” she said.
Jeffrey Smith of Brillion was paralyzed from the chest down 20 years ago and lives in constant pain.
The drugs prescribed for him — Baclofen and Gabapentin — had ill effects and their dosages were life threatening, he said.
“The Gabapentin didn’t stop the pain so much as it gave me a ‘chemical lobotomy,’ made me too spaced out to speak. On the other hand, the use of cannabis hemp as a medicinal treatment has given me a greatly improved living quality. I can once again compose music, perform it and even write for two online magazines. It has given me a life that patented medication surely took away,” he said.
Pros and cons
Dr. Steve Harvey, anesthesiologist and board-certified pain physician with Aurora Health Care in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan, sees medical marijuana as playing a significant role in treating debilitating conditions caused by cancer and chronic pain.
“I think in the case of patients with nerve pain, shingles or post-shingle pain, with pain that radiates down the leg or arms, or herniated discs, it has a direct analgesic effect,” Harvey said.
Particularly useful, he said, is marijuana’s demonstrated anti-nausea effects on cancer patients.
“There are forms of cannabis available outside of smoking it. Any arrow in the quiver that is available to us can be very useful and I think that is being demonstrated in other parts of the country. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said.
Marijuana opponent and Fond du Lac psychiatrist Dr. Darold Treffert says the push for medical marijuana is misdirected, unnecessary and holds great risk.
“I have treated patients with AODA problems, including marijuana, for over 40 years. And marijuana is not harmless. Whatever the benefits, if any, of making medical marijuana available by prescription are far outweighed by the risks of how easily in other states it has led to ‘sham clinics’ with mass diversion to street use,” he said.
In Michigan, which recently made medical marijuana available, there are 1,000 new applications per month from patients and growers, and a “cannabis college” has been established to teach students how to grow the plants most effectively. In dispensaries, the marijuana often has rather exotic, non-medicinal-sounding names.
“I sympathize, and do have compassion, for patients experiencing long term pain or other intractable problems. But the risks of diversion and all its attendant problems far outweigh the benefits of making medical marijuana (smoked) readily available, and there are other alternatives available for such circumstances without those risks,” Treffert said. “Research is under way to synthesize THC or other cannabinols that can be delivered in standardized doses in a conventional manner. I support that research. It is simply a more sensible and less dangerous way to proceed.”
Agnesian HealthCare was unable to provide a physician that would discuss the use of medical marijuana.
State Rep. John Townsend said he opposes any marijuana use, and would vote against the bill.
“Under federal law, it is an illegal substance, and there may by some problems with that. Some state statutes allow medical marijuana, but my question is whether it is really being used for medical purposes — or is it recreational? And who is regulating this use? I’ve been in contact with the local medical community, and they are not in favor of it,” he said.
Disabled veteran Steve Passehl of Wittenberg broke three vertebrae during the Gulf War and has undergone 13 surgeries.
“Marijuana helps with spasms from my paralysis and neck injury. It helps me deal with chronic pain, fights my depression, and gets me to eat,” he said.
According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, House and Senate Bills (AB 554 and SB 368) define how many people can be cared for and place caps on the amount of marijuana that can be available in compassion centers, as well as allowing production and distribution facilities.
Previous bills in Wisconsin relating to the topic failed despite occasional bi-partisan support.
By Sharon Roznik. Source.
# A hearing on the medical marijuana bill is set for Dec. 15 in front of the Senate and Assembly health committees. Written testimony can be e-mailed to Kelly.Johnson@legis.wisconsin.gov in state Sen. Jon Erpenbach’s office. The mailing address is Room 8 South, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882. Erpenbach’s office will make all submitted written testimony available to all members of both committees.
# The complete bill can be read at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AB-554.pdf.