Medical marijuana hits legislature

December 05, 2005

Julie Isen (OpEd), Badger Herald

Republican Representative Gregg Underheim has once again proposed legislation to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in the state of Wisconsin. This year, as opposed to last year when Underheim also introduced this bill, the Assembly Committee on Health held a public hearing on AB 740, the Medical Marijuana Bill. On Nov. 11, 2005, the Committee, chaired by Underheim, heard 17 people speak in favor of the legislation and one speak against.

There is strong public support for this as well; a 2004 poll conducted by Chamberlain Research Consultants revealed that almost 80 percent of Wisconsin residents are in favor of medical marijuana legislation.

Now, you may be asking yourself why a Republican from Oshkosh is introducing legislation that seems as though it could have come straight from a Democrat from Madison, but Underheim has his reasons. And they’re good reasons at that. Underheim, a true compassionate conservative, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. While he was fortunate enough to not have to go through chemotherapy, he has spoken with patients who were not as lucky as he was.

Through dealing with a personal tragedy in his own life, Rep. Underheim has learned that problems such as loss of appetite from certain medications and chronic pain can be lessened with the use of medical marijuana. Patients with HIV/AIDS or those going through chemotherapy would not need to lose so much weight and risk complicating factors such as a lack of nutrients from food. The side effects of some treatments for cancer and HIV are so devastating that some even choose to not suffer the debilitating stomach pain and nausea and forego treatment. With medical marijuana, these symptoms can be alleviated. Those who suffer from glaucoma and chronic pain can ease the pressure associated with their pain and live fuller lives.

Although Rep. Underheim does genuinely feel strongly about the benefits of medical marijuana for those who are suffering, his bill does not go far enough to ensure help to those who need it. This bill does not allow a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana, only recommend it. Also, the bill merely provides a possible defense for those who have registered and for whom marijuana has been recommended if they get caught.

The law prohibiting manufacturing, delivering and possessing remains intact. This begs the question, how exactly do those suffering HIV, cancer, glaucoma, and chronic pain patients get this miracle drug that can alleviate their pain without many harmful side effects? This question has been left unanswered by the proposed legislation.

The compassion shown by Rep. Underheim and the good intentions of his legislation are admirable. It has drawn large numbers of bipartisan supporters and has the support of the people of Wisconsin. However, in order to make a significant difference for those who live in pain and suffer on a daily basis, medical marijuana legislation must be taken a couple steps further.

This has been made somewhat more difficult recently. In what was yet another hindrance to improving the quality of life for suffering Americans, the Supreme Court decided in June to allow the prosecution of legal users of medical marijuana in states that have official programs. Another legislator from Wisconsin, U.S. Representative Baldwin, has re-introduced legislation from 2001 that allows states to define their own medical marijuana programs. The bipartisan “State’s Rights to Medical Marijuana Act” could facilitate a compromise between the federal government and state’s rights. If the coalition that has been built and spans party lines is successful, perhaps some positive change can be made in the lives of those who are in need of some relief as well as hope.

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