MADISON: A year ago, it seemed like nothing could stop Wisconsin from being the next medical marijuana state. A state of the art bill was being written. The bill had the support of the Governor and powerful leaders in both houses.
Despite all this, a lack of political courage and political will left the JRMMA in the legislative dustbin once again, crushing the hope that had been given back to long suffering state patients and families.
Below is a list of 10 things that would be different in Wisconsin had the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (AB554/SB368) passed this session.
One: Jacki Rickert and thousands of WI patients would have their medicine
Jacki Rickert, namesake of the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, would finally get a big YES to the question she has been asking for so many years, “Is My Nedicine Legal YET?”. Jacki, who was approved for federal medical marijuana supplies in Dec. 1990 but never supplied, was counting on state lawmakers to make good on a lifetime of broken promises from everyone from Bill Clinton on down. Not only Jacki, but thousands and thousands of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable, most hurting citizens would finally have safe and legal access to cannabis. Many would be getting it for the first time because they could not or would not access the cannabis black market. The people affected, seniors, veterans, disabled people, terminally ill, chronically ill, all have families and friends would all feel better knowing their friends and loved ones burdens and struggles had been eased.
Two: New jobs, businesses, investment in Wisconsin
Had the JRMMA passed with all provisions intact, there would have been a great deal of investment and new small businesses that would have generated thousands of new :green” jobs. Other states that have legalized medical cannabis have seen a wide array of positive economic activity. Tight regulations in the JRMMA assured that Wisconsin would not see the problems other states have seen. Job creation would include both full and part time positions and likely help put people formerly homebound with disabilities back to work. Empty storefronts would have become homes to new compassion-related businesses.
Three: Criminal justice workloads reduced
While some opponents painted passage of the JRMMA as a “law enforcement nightmare”, the opposite would be true. Law enforcement would have a registry of legal medical users to consult to avoid arresting people who legally qualify. The use of criminal justice resources would be reduced. As one supporter within the law enforcement community phrased it, “There should be no room to feel bitter that we can no longer prosecute individuals who legally possess marijuana (if the JRMMA passed)”.
Four: Julie Lassa would be considered a hero, not a goat
The overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites support legal access to medical marijuana. Had State Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Milladore) not joined with Senate Health Committee Republicans to kill the JRMMA, she would be considered a hero for joining her 3 Democratic colleagues and providing the 4 votes necessary to get the JRMMA to the Senate floor.
While it’s true the bill could have stalled further along the legislative pipeline, by refusing to support it, Sen. Lassa ensured the JRMMA would die in committee in a session where the political landscape was finally aligned to pass a medical marijuana law after years of Republican control. The political landscape for next session is anyone’s guess.
So now Lassa is running for Congress, supporting the war in Afghanistan and campaigning to be able to vote to send troops to war after failing to do her duty as state senator to see that veterans have every tool they need to move forward after serving our country. Had she supported the JRMMA, Lassa would have been a hero. Instead, she’s a goat…
Five: State regains “progressive” label
Wisconsin has long been known as a “progressive state” because of the heritage of folks like “Fighting Bob” La Follette. But little that could be called progressive has emerged from the state legislature for decades. Had the JRMMA passed, Wisconsin would be joining a select club of 14 states and Washington DC that have all benefited from legal access to medical cannabis. And, Wisconsin and Michigan, where voters passed medical cannabis in Nov. 2008, could work together to maximize economic impacts and job creation from this industry. A provision in the JRMMA allowed reciprocity with other state medical marijuana programs like Michigan’s.
Six: Print and other media ad revenues up
Advertising for the new medical cannabis industry has boosted media ad revenues in states where it is legal. Entire newspapers dedicated to the industry have been created, and existing media, like the Boulder Weekly, report increases in ad revenues. With many media outlets reducing coverage and laying off staff, a state medical marijuana law could have brought an infusion of business to these struggling businesses.
Seven: New respect for Legislature and elected representatives for listening to people
IMMLY did a poll in Feb. 2002 that found 80.3% support statewide for MMJ. Another poll in 2005 found similar results. Michigan’s medical marijuana initiative in 2008 outpolled President Obama by 10% and in 2004, MMJ got more votes in Montana than George W. Bush, who carried that state. Medical cannabis is arguably more popular than any candidate or elected official. This is likely why the Dane County Board ended up voting unanimously to put a MMJ referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot. Those few supervisors who considered opposing it understood there was nothing to gain by being perceived as an opponent.
When, after an 8 hour combined public hearing where over 100 testified in support with only a handful of special interests opposing, most Wisconsinites expected state lawmakers to do the right thing. Gov. Doyle was on record as willing to sign it.
By failing to pass it in an election year where anti-incumbent sentiments are high, many lawmakers have opened themselves up to a potential loss for failing to make this popular issue state law. More and more candidates are seeing support for medical cannabis as a way to gain votes.
Eight: Health care costs diminish
With legal access to medical cannabis, many Wisconsinites patients would see improvements in their medical conditions. Under consultation with cannabis specialist doctors, patients could wean themselves off expensive, toxic, side effect laden pharmaceuticals or at least use less. While, it would take awhile to kick in, better health means less need for doctor visits and less costs incurred overall.
Nine: State vets and new VA policy
The Veteran’s Administration recently issued a clarification in its policies towards medical cannabis using patients in the US states where it is legal, announcing that patients using cannabis under state law will not be penalized or lose access to care or opiate pain meds. This change would have applied to Wisconsin veterans had the JRMMA passed. Lawmakers love to paint themselves as the veteran’s very best friend. Those who opposed the JRMMA either by taking a position against or failing to take a position in support are not the friends of veterans at all and do not deserve their votes this fall.
Ten: New revenues from taxes and fees boost local and state budgets in toughest economic period since the 1930’s.
Local and state budgets get stretched thinner every year. Cuts at the city, county and state levels have cut services and raised fees and taxes. Meanwhile, in California, legal medical cannabis dispensaries are bringing in as much as $100 million per year, and local sales taxes are helping fill the gap in places like Oakland and Berkeley. Colorado just took in $7 million in dispensary fees and they move to impose tighter regulation on state medical cannabis providers. In Wisconsin, state regulation of dispensaries is built in to the JRMMA so the state can ensure proper regulation from day one.
Had Wisconsin lawmakers passed the JRMMA, the state would have experienced an uptick in sale tax revenues as patients and caregivers outfitted grow facilities. The building and construction industry could have gone to work on dispensaries, clinics and other facilities. State coffers would have been growing from dispensary applications at $5K per applicant. A lot of folks would be back to work including disabled people out of the job market for years, so income taxes would have seen increases too.
This is just a quick, off the top of the head look at some of the benefits of restoring this freedom to those in medical need. Restoring the freedom of all Americans to use the cannabis plant for all uses again might be the ticket to pull the nation up and out of the great recession afflicting us. Yes, cannabis is a treatment for that too.
For more info: While efforts to pass the Jacki Rickert MMJ Act (JRMMA) failed in the 2009-2010 legislative session, plans for advisory referendums this fall and other efforts are underway. Learn more by signing up at www.jrmma.org or on Facebook. Please add your name to their email list and stay in touch as this movement continues to pick up momentum. 6/24/10: Gary Storck OPED: Isthmus: Rejection of Wisconsin medical marijuana bill was a profile in cowardice. This Oct. 1-3, 2010: 40th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival. For additional details on medical cannabis and Wisconsin visit JRMMA.org, IMMLY.org, Wisconsin NORML or MadisonNORML.org. Visit my Madison NORML Examiner articles archive. Photos courtesy of Madison NORML/IMMLY. All rights reserved. Madison NORML Examiner is dedicated to the memory of our sister and hero Mary Powers (1949-2009).