Medical marijuana advocates rally

September 30, 2005

Sandy Cullen, Wisconsin State Journal

Advocates for legalizing marijuana for medical use in Wisconsin are rallying support at this weekend's Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival for a bill they say is expected to be introduced by Rep. Gregg Underheim, R-Oshkosh.


Underheim, who chairs the Assembly's Health Committee, said in June that after talking with cancer survivors while he was receiving treatment for prostate cancer, he planned to introduce legislation to allow limited use of medical marijuana when prescribed by a doctor.

He could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Local advocate Gary Storck said members of the Wisconsin Coalition for Safe Access plan to make an announcement at the Capitol on Monday, when they also will deliver cards signed by medical marijuana supporters to state legislators.

The cards cite surveys that found 80 percent of people in Wisconsin and across the country support access to medical marijuana.

Storck said there are already 15 co-sponsors of the bill, including Reps. Mark Pocan and Spencer Black, both Madison Democrats.

Pocan said many people he has talked to believe that marijuana can be helpful in alleviating pain and creating an appetite, and provides a more holistic option to treating symptoms than other drugs.

Black said he sees no reason why marijuana should not be available to help patients with cancer and other illnesses when prescribed by a doctor.

"Many states ranging from conservative to progressive have passed legislation like this," Black said. "I would hope Wisconsin would as well."

"I think we have our first real chance," said longtime local advocate Ben Masel.

A medical marijuana bill introduced four years ago never made it out the Assembly's Health Committee, Masel said, adding that Underheim, who also chaired the committee then, opposed it at that time.

Storck, who helped establish the organization Is My Medicine Legal Yet?, credits the marijuana he has used daily for more than 30 years with saving his eyesight by reducing pressure caused by glaucoma. Marijuana also alleviates his chronic pain caused by degenerative disc disease and arthritis, he said.

After almost dying following heart surgery in 1997, Storck said, "I decided to use this extra time I was given to get medical marijuana (legalized) in Wisconsin."

The 35th annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival brought advocates from California and Washington, D.C., to join local supporters Saturday in speaking out in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

The festival will continue at 1 p.m. today on Library Mall with bluegrass music by Barleycorn and a parade up State Street to a rally on the Capitol steps. The parade will begin at about 2:45 p.m.

Dr. Tod Mikuriya, a leading figure in the medical marijuana movement in California, said that nearly 150,000 patients have benefited from medical marijuana since it was legalized in that state nearly 10 years ago.

Mikuriya said the federal government is protecting big pharmaceutical companies by opposing medical use of marijuana in favor of drugs that are less effective and can have severe side effects.

Other advocates, such as R. Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, D.C., and Mikki Norris of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign in El Cerrito, Calif., are drawing on the battle for civil rights by gays and lesbians in urging recreational marijuana users to come out of the closet.

Stroup said many people were brought up amid cultural opposition to marijuana in the era of "Reefer Madness" and have an image of pot smokers as long-haired hippies burning draft cards.

But that is changing, Stroup said, adding that 47 percent of Americans today have smoked marijuana. "We're within a couple of years of having more Americans who have smoked than not."

In the last year, 27 million Americans smoked marijuana, Stroup said. "We're just average Americans. We're certainly not criminals."

Of the 755,000 arrests for marijuana in the United States last year, he said, 88 percent were for simple possession.

Norris' group also is working to dispel the myths and negative stereotypes associated with marijuana use. Its Web site - - features photos and profiles of 260 marijuana users "to show we are basically good, contributing members of society."

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