Democrats are pushing legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin despite facing a Republican-led legislature and a likely veto from Gov. Scott Walker.
A pair of lawmakers introduced two proposals Monday aimed at easing restrictions on medical pot in the state. One proposal calls for partial medical legalization for a list of qualifying conditions. The other proposal wants to take the question to Wisconsin residents through a non-binding ballot referendum. The bills appear doomed to fail in the Republican legislature and would likely be vetoed by Gov. Scott Walker, who is against medical marijuana legalization, reports The Capital Times.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Chris Taylor, co-sponsors of the ballot referendum, hope Republicans in the legislature who have fears about legalization will at least give the people a chance to weigh in.
“This will lead to law-abiding citizens who have chronic diseases and health issues we can’t even begin to imagine, to put them in a situation where they don’t have to break the law anymore,” Erpenbach said Monday in a press conference.
One of their chief arguments in favor of legalization centers is the opioid epidemic. Heroin overdoses killed 281 people in Wisconsin in 2015, accounting for more deaths than car accidents and tripling the number of fatalities attributed to heroin in 2010. Officials in the state are particularly concerned with the emergence of fentanyl, a painkiller 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Fentanyl is having a particularly devastating effect in Milwaukee, which reports at least 77 fentanyl deaths in 2016, a 120 percent spike over the previous year.
“At this point in time I was taking up to seven different medications daily,” Steve Acheson, an Iraq War veteran who now uses marijuana to treat pain, said during a press conference Monday. “I would equate my existence to something resembling a zombie. Slowly, I was able to replace every single medication I had been taking with one natural, safe, and most importantly, effective alternative to the plethora of pills.”
Advocates of medical marijuana legalization urge lawmakers to shift their stance on the issue in the wake of spiking heroin deaths across the country. A study conducted by Dr. Daniel Clauw, a professor at the University of Michigan, found that patients who were treated for chronic pain with both opioids and marijuana eventually pivot towards higher levels of weed consumption.
“They noted on average a two-thirds decrease in their opioid dose,” Clauw told NPR. “They also noted that they just felt a lot better overall with respect to side-effect profile when their pain was being controlled largely with cannabinoids.”
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