Referendum proposed on legalizing medical marijuana

Democrats propose two measures

The public would be able to weigh in on whether medical marijuana should be legal under a measure announced by two state Democrats.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, announced the two bills Monday morning.

One measure would put a non-binding referendum on a statewide ballot to ask voters whether they want to legalize medical marijuana. The other bill, if passed, would legalize the drug.

“It’s time we take this issue to the voters and give legislators the data they need so they can no longer ignore the direct input from their constituents,” Erpenbach said.

Erpenbach has proposed multiple bills over more than a decade that have not move forward at the Capitol, but some believe that an opioid crisis might push the measures farther this session.

Steve Acheson, an Iraq war veteran, held up two gallon-sized bags full of pills at the news conference Monday.

“This represents the amount of pills that I was prescribed by the VA in the course of about three weeks,” Acheson said, shaking the pills.

Acheson said he was prescribed the pills after a back surgery — his third after he said a Humvee fell on him during his deployment. He also suffers from moderate to severe PTSD and says he returned to college feeling like “a zombie.”

Ultimately, Acheson said someone offered him a chance to try cannabis, which he called “an epiphany.”

“Initially the good soldier in me was hesitant to participate, but I figured what do I have to lose? I’m already at the end of my rope,” Acheson said.

He said many of the pills he was taking were opioid painkillers and he felt he had become addicted.

“Slowly I was able to replace every single medication I had been taking with one natural, safe and, most importantly, effective alternative to the plethora of pills,” Acheson said.

Lawmakers proposing the bills argue that the measures should be considered as part of a package of legislation that is trying to curb opiate addiction in the state.

“Opiates, not marijuana, are the gateway drug of the 21st century,” Taylor said.

Some Republicans have expressed interest in a tightly regulated bill in recent weeks, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Gov. Scott Walker remains opposed, saying there are other “viable alternatives.”

A state committee looking at marijuana use in the state issued a report in 2016 advising against approval of medical and recreational marijuana or even derivatives like cannabidiol oil that is used to treat siezure disorders, without FDA approval.

Others, like Dr. David Olive, who is a reproductive endocrinologist who treats patients with endometriosis and is now a stage four cancer patient himself, said this option is more important than ever.

“I urge you and the state Legislature to support these bills for my sake, for the sake of my patients and many Wisconsinites who can benefit and even have their lives saved due to these drugs,” Olive said.

News 3 reached out to chairs of both the Assembly and Senate health committees. Senate chair Leah Vukmir could not be reached Monday. Assembly chair Joe Sanfelippo said in a statement he would make a decision on a hearing after studying the proposal.

Twenty-eight other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.