Medical marijuana advocates praise WI bill

February 26, 2004

Jim Collar, The Northwestern

Jacki Rickert doesn’t smoke marijuana for a high.

She said she smokes marijuana so she can live.

The Mondovi resident suffers from a rare connective tissue disorder. While using traditional medicines, she wasted away to 68 pounds. After using marijuana as a medicine, she’s back to her normal weight, she can move again and most importantly, she can live her life.

It’s time for government to realize that marijuana has legitimate purposes, she said.

“My world changed,” said Rickert, founder of the Is My Medicine Legal Yet? advocacy group. “I could start eating a little bit by little bit.”

Wisconsin advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana are praising an Oshkosh lawmaker for a bill they hope will raise discussion on legitimate use of the drug. Rep. Gregg Underheim, R-Oshkosh, introduced a bill into the State Legislature this week that would allow the medical use of marijuana for illnesses and ailments including AIDS, cancer and glaucoma.

If passed, the bill would create a medical necessity defense in the courtroom for those charged with marijuana use or possession. The bill also calls for the state to create a registry of medical marijuana users and would authorize certain non-profit groups to distribute the drug to those approved for its medical use.

Still, marijuana use would remain a federal crime.

Rickert said there’s little chance the bill will pass in the current session. But she praised it as a good first step.

Right now, marijuana use and possession are state and federal crimes regardless of purpose. While advocates are seeing attitudes change toward medical use, legalization remains a source of controversy.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration argues that marijuana is dangerous, addictive and provides no medical benefit that legal prescription medications couldn’t.

At the same time, those who support legalizing drugs have seized on the medical-use arguments to advocate broader legalization of drug use, according to DEA position papers.

Supporters of medical marijuana argue that the drug is safer than many prescription medications and has multiple benefits including pain relief and increased appetite.

Eight states have made its use legal, although the U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t recognized those laws. In California, federal drug agents have raided clubs established for dispensing medical marijuana several times since the state legalized it in 1996.

Gary Storck, a Madison member of Rickert’s organization, said he understands criminalizing certain drug use, but not when it’s allowing the sick to lead better lives.

Storck, a lifelong glaucoma sufferer, said he believes he would be blind today if it wasn't for his regular marijuana use. The drug releases tension in his eyes and it doesn’t carry the harsh side effects of some legal medicines.

Underheim’s bill would still maintain some prohibitions.

The bill would limit where medical marijuana could be smoked, and the medical defense couldn’t be used if a patient sold or otherwise delivered marijuana to someone else. The bill would also maintain prohibitions against driving under the influence.

Underheim could not be reached for comment on Wednesday or Thursday.

Rickert said she’s thankful that marijuana is at least being considered. People should consider stories like hers before forming an opinion, she said.

She doesn’t consider herself a criminal, but she said she’d continue to break the law if it means relief.

“What do I fear most?” she asked. “Do I fear the police, or do I fear the pain and going back to 68 pounds? That’s a pretty easy answer.”

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