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View from around the state: An opening to legalize medical marijuana

— From The Journal Times of Racine

The use of medical marijuana — marijuana prescribed by a physician — has been shown to have substantial benefit for patients with cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, among other conditions.

Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to legalize medical marijuana in his budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Feb. 17. Evers, the former state schools chief, also wants to decriminalize possessing, manufacturing or distributing of up to 25 grams of recreational pot for personal use.

Evers argues it’s time for Wisconsin to join more than 30 other states — including neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois — in legalizing medical marijuana. Wisconsin voters in 16 counties and two cities voted in November to approve non-binding referendums in favor of medical marijuana, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called the Evers proposal a “very difficult sell.” He said a medical marijuana legalization plan had about a 40 percent chance of passing, but that he thought he could get it to 50 percent. The plan Evers put forward only has a 10 percent chance with skeptical Republicans, Vos said.

The issue would appear to be linking medical marijuana with recreational marijuana.

“There is no chance Republicans are going to go to recreational marijuana,” Vos said Thursday at the WisPolitics.com luncheon in Madison. “They’re not going to decriminalize it so people can carry around bags of weed all over the state.”

Vos called that idea “so preposterous, because that is so far out of the mainstream, it makes the entire proposal not serious.”

We’re not as sure it’s that far out of the mainstream, given the support shown for medical marijuana (84.8 percent in Racine County, 87.7 percent in the City of Racine) and recreational marijuana (59.4 percent in the county, 66.3 percent in the city) in the Nov. 6 local advisory referendums.

But one of the reasons Vos keeps getting elected Assembly speaker, we presume, is that he knows how to read the room. In his case, the room is the Assembly chamber, and if he says there is “no chance” the Republican majority will go for recreational marijuana, we’re inclined to agree with his assessment.

There is, however, an opportunity for legalization of medical marijuana. Republican legislators were clearly moved by the story of Lydia Schaeffer, the little Burlington girl who suffered from severe seizures which were reduced in severity by cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, which is derived from marijuana. Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill legalizing CBD oil in 2014. So it’s not as if Republicans in the Legislature are immovable on medical uses for marijuana.

We’re in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana, provided there are strict guidelines for physicians with regard to prescribing it. Unless recreational marijuana is legalized, we don’t want to see recreational users attempting an end run around a medical-marijuana law by seeking a doctor’s help. You shouldn’t be able to get a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana for a stubbed toe; if there aren’t going to be strict guidelines for medical prescriptions, marijuana may as well be legalized entirely.

The political climate in Madison isn’t right for recreational marijuana, but there appears to be an opening to make medical marijuana legal in Wisconsin. We’d like to see the chemo patients and those with chronic pain get help first.

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