BILL TO ALLOW MEDICAL MARIJUANA TO BE PROPOSED AGAIN
MADISON - Fifty-three-year-old Jacki Rickert of Madison is undergoing rehabilitative therapy for four broken ribs and a chipped hipbone that she suffered in a fall that wouldn't have hurt most people.
The therapy is expected to help, but without marijuana, Rickert doubts she'd be able to handle the pain associated with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a disorder that makes her bones and connective tissue highly susceptible to injury.
Even daily tasks can result in the separation of her shoulder joint, Rickert said. Marijuana calms her and relaxes her muscles, allowing the ball and socket of her shoulder joint to be put back together without a trip to the hospital.
Marijuana also helps Rickert, who weighs about 85 pounds, to maintain weight by stimulating her appetite, she said. However, the use of marijuana for any purpose is illegal, and there's a dispute over whether it has medicinal value. But Rickert said she does "what you have to do to get by," and that marijuana could benefit a lot of people with chronic health problems.
Should medical use of marijuana be legal in Wisconsin?
Rickert, who lived in Mondovi until recently, is hoping a case now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court will pave the way for making medicinal use of marijuana legal in Wisconsin. The high court heard arguments Monday on whether states should have authority to decide if marijuana is good medicine. Federal law bans marijuana use nationally, and the Bush administration opposes a change.
State Rep. Gregg Underheim, R-Oshkosh, said he will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana for medicinal use during the next legislative session, which begins in January. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of states' rights, Underheim's bill could get a boost.
Underheim introduced a similar proposal last session, but the bill died in committee, partly over concerns about how patients would acquire the drug, Underheim said. He's working on language that would address that concern before re-introducing the bill, he said.
Underheim, who had a small cancerous growth removed from his prostate in 2002, said his own experience with cancer got him thinking about the possible medicinal benefits of marijuana. The drug can reduce nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy and stimulate the appetites of AIDS patients, among other benefits, said Underheim, who has headed the Assembly's Health Committee since 1995.
Ten Democrats and two other Republicans - Rep. Terry Musser, R-Black River Falls, and Rep. Eugene Hahn, R-Cambria - signed onto Underheim's bill last session. Underheim said he'll get more support if the proposal makes it to a floor vote.
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle would wait to see a specific proposal before deciding if he'd approve a bill for the legalization of marijuana for medical use, said Melanie Fonder, a spokeswoman for the governor.
In reviewing such a proposal, Doyle would consider input from medical professionals, who already prescribe drugs that are more dangerous than marijuana, Fonder said.
"This should be a medical decision, not a political decision," Fonder said.
Rickert, who also suffers from a nerve disorder, said she was once approved in late 1990 to participate in a federal program that still provides marijuana to seven patients in the United States. But the program was ended by former President Bush before she was able to participate.