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Wisconsin Medical Marijuana Debate Heats Up

It’s a debate that’s been going on for decades and now Wisconsin is about to be at the center of it again.

Right now, there are 13 states where Medical Marijuana is legal and another 17 states where legislation is being considered.  This issue is nothing new for Wisconsin.  It’s been considered several times over the years, but each time it’s gone up in smoke.

This latest bill is modeled after a recent referendum in Michigan that passed with 63% majority statewide.

58 year old Jacki Rickert of Mondovi can barely walk on her own.  Her entire adult life she’s battled a condition called Ehler’s-Danos Syndrome.  Jacki says, “you have a collagen defect, which is most of your body is made up of collagen, it’s the glue that holds your body pretty much together.”  Jacki was born with the disease, but didn’t realize it until she reached full bone growth.  She’s had multiple surgeries since she was a teenager.  “It’s very painful, very painful,” says Jacki.

At age 42, Jacki also found out she had what’s called Reflex sympathetic Dystrophy.  Doctors aren’t sure where one condition leaves off and the other picks up.  Jacki says, “I was told at the time, I had the bones of an 86 year old woman.  I actually have no muscle tissue around my tail bone, it just comes to a point.”

Conventional drugs like morphine and muscle relaxers definitely help Jacki with the pain, but they come with side effects.  Today Jacki is a mere 94 pounds and at one point, she dropped to just 68 lbs..  Her doctor told her she needed to do something or she would die.  For Jacki, that meant turning to marijuana to ease the pain and in her words, save her life.  “You have to do what you have to do and decide ok, that’s what I have to do and I was able to start eating again, my body was accepting the nutrients, vitamins.  People say aren’t you afraid of using cannabis when it’s illegal, yeah I think most of us can say yes, but that versus weighing 68 lbs again, I don’t want to ever weight 68 lbs again,” says Jacki.

For nearly two decades, Jacki’s been pushing to make medical marijuana legal in Wisconsin.  She’s the founder of a group called “Is My Medicine Legal Yet” and her name is on the bill set to be debated by state lawmakers.  It’s called the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act.  Jacki says, “I’m very honored to have my name on it, but it’s not about me, it’s about every patient in this state.”

The bill allows patients with a number of debilitating diseases and conditions to either grow or possess marijuana if they have a prescription from their doctor.  Some of the conditions covered include cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s and post traumatic stress disorder.  The bill also calls for distribution centers around the state.  “Nobody wants to be a part of the criminal element, we’re not asking for any special treatment whatsoever, we just want treatment,” says Jacki.

The bill would also set up a registry for these patients with an ID card issued from the Department of Health Services and set a limit on the amount of marijuana a patient may have.  Jacki says, “I think it’s a win/win situation completely, knowing exactly who has it, where it is, what it’s being used for.”

But not everyone sees it that clearly.  La Crosse Co. Sheriff Steve Helgeson says it would be step backward for the community.  “I’m opposed to medical marijuana, we currently have a significant problem with drugs and alcohol in La Crosse Co. and we’ve worked very hard as a community to deal with that program through education, prevention and treatment,” says Sheriff Helgeson.

Helgeson also says the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.  “We’re sending the wrong message to young people that somehow getting high there’s a benefit, from marijuana, but you’re going to have to get high and become under the influence to receive that benefit, I don’t think that’s going in the right direction.”

But supporters, like Jacki, say this time, this bill and will continue their fight until they take their last breath or their medicine is legal.  “To just say, I’d rather give up and die than to hurt my family, that’s horrible and in Wisconsin, I don’t want to have to say that to anyone.”

State Representative Mike Huebsch from West Salem says he’s not necessarily opposed to medical marijuana, but he doesn’t support the bill in its current form.  He says it basically provides a legal defense for people to grow and use marijuana.  He says there needs to be more restrictions, like those used for any other prescribed medication.

State Representative Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse and State Senator Dan Kapanke both are still learning more about the bill and haven’t yet taken a position on the issue.


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