A weekly feature on proposed changes to state and local law.

In a nutshell

Current law prohibits a person from possessing, manufacturing or distributing marijuana.

This bill (AB480, SB363) creates a medical use defense to marijuana-related prosecutions and fines, and prohibits the arrest or prosecution of people who are registered with the Department of Health Services (DHS) and have certain debilitating medical conditions or treatments.

People who are registered could possess 12 marijuana plants and 3 ounces of marijuana leaves or flowers. They would be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery or engaging in any other conduct that endangers the health or well being of another person while under the influence of marijuana.

The bill requires DHS to establish a registry for people who use marijuana for medical use. People may apply for a registry identification card for a fee of not more than $150. A registry identification card is generally valid for two years and may be renewed.

The bill also requires DHS to license and regulate nonprofit corporations, known as compassion centers, that distribute marijuana.

It also requires DHS to register entities as testing laboratories to test marijuana for contaminants, research findings on the use of medical marijuana and provide training on safe and efficient cultivation, harvesting, packaging, labeling and distribution of marijuana, security and inventory accountability and research on medical marijuana.

This bill changes state law regarding marijuana. It does not affect federal law, which generally prohibits persons from manufacturing, delivering or possessing marijuana.

The case for it

“This is something we have needed for a long time,” said Gary Storck, co-founder of Is My Medicine Legal YET?

“Legislators have not stepped up to the will of the people,” Storck said, adding, “It’s tying every doctor’s hands who has a patient who would benefit from this.”

California legalized medical marijuana 17 years ago, he said, adding that 20 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws.

Storck said more people are using medical marijuana to help alleviate symptoms of illnesses ranging from cancer to seizure disorders, putting themselves at legal risk.

“This will not only further the cause of compassion in treating people’s illnesses,” he said, it will help to create jobs.

The case against it

Dr. Michael Miller, vice speaker of the House of Delegates for the Wisconsin Medical Society, which opposes the bill, said it takes the authority for approving a medication away from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Miller said doctors who approve marijuana use for their patients under such bills are enaging in a political act, not a medical one, and generally do not follow up with patients as they would with other medications that they prescribe.

If the bill were only about compassionate use of marijuana by people who are terminally ill, or about legalizing marijuana outright, he said, “It would be a different discussion.”

Miller, the medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, said marijuana is not without health risks, especially when smoked, and about 10 percent of people who use it become addicted. Approving its medical use adds to perceptions that it is safe, especially among young people, whose use of marijuana is rising.

To get involved

To contact your lawmaker about this or any other bill, call the legislative hotline, which is staffed from 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays at 608-266-9960 or 800-362-9472. To send an email, go to the Legislature’s website at legis.wisconsin.gov, select Assembly or Senate and then “Email directory.

— Sandy Cullen

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