Medical marijuana bill should get hearings

A recent CBS News poll shows 77 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana to treat serious medical conditions.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana. But Wisconsin and neighboring Illinois and Minnesota are not among that group.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, want to make Wisconsin the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana. They have introduced legislation to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes.

Given that Republicans control both legislative bodies, it’s unlikely the bill will pass anytime soon. According to Erpenbach’s office there have been no commitments by committee chairs to hold hearings on the bill in the Senate or the Assembly.

This isn’t reckless legislation. Erpenbach and Pocan aren’t suggesting that marijuana be made legal as a recreational drug. There isn’t clear backing for that nationally or in Wisconsin, In fact, the CBS News poll shows 51 percent of Americans still believe recreational use of marijuana should be illegal.

But more than three-quarters of Americans approve of the use of marijuana for the treatment of afflictions such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Hepatitis C, Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Under the Erpenbach-Pocan legislation, medical marijuana could only be dispensed with a doctor’s prescription. It could be grown at home or obtained through a licensed nonprofit dispensary.

The bill would allow patients with a prescription to grow 12 marijuana plants or purchase up to 3 ounces from a dispensary.

The bill also includes common-sense safeguards:

n Patients using marijuana for medicinal purposes cannot operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery.

n Users cannot smoke marijuana at work, on a bus, at school, in a correctional facility or in a public place.

n The Department of Health Services will license and regulate nonprofit corporations that can sell marijuana for medical use.

There is abuse of medical marijuana laws in some states. Federal officials are launching a campaign to close dispensaries in California because of lax enforcement of the medical marijuana law.

But marijuana can help people with debilitating illnesses who can’t get relief from other drugs. In their desperation, some of these people are breaking the law to get the only drug that cuts their pain.

Sixteen states have already responded to these patients by legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. We encourage the Wisconsin Legislature to hold hearings on the Erpenbach-Pocan legislation.

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