Monday, January 4, 2010

State Legislative Leadership Afraid of Decriminalizing Medical Marijuana

It was reported in the La Crosse Tribune and in the Pierce County Herald today that the Democratic legislative leadership in both the state Senate and Assembly aren’t really excited about the proposed medical marijuana bill that got a hearing last month (AB 554/SB 368). This is disappointing in light of the national trend of more progressive policies being passed regarding decriminalizing cannabis for medical purposes (check out the Top 10 Medical Cannabis Stories from 2009 compiled on the Examiner blog by Is My Medicine Legal Yet organizer Gary Stork).

The ACLU of Wisconsin testified at the eight-hour hearing on December 15 that individuals have a right to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment free from governmental prohibition. This legislation would free health professionals and patients to determine the most effective course of treatment for chronic pain and suffering.

We also made the point that while this bill is about decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes in Wisconsin, the ACLU has long supported alternatives to the failed policies of the “War on Drugs.” The criminalization of drug users has not only hurt chronically ill people and their families. But our current drug policy has led to unimaginable levels of incarceration, massive violations of civil rights and enormous fiscal costs.

The ACLU supports a drug policy that honestly and realistically seeks to promote public health and safety through regulatory policy that will benefit society, preserve individual freedom and better serve the needs of individuals. This legislation is a step in the right direction for public health.

But despite polling that suggests that public opinion is very much in favor of regulating cannabis for medical use – the bill’s sponsors said that the people are way ahead of their legislators on the issue – our state’s legislative leadership don’t seem to be willing to let the issue get a floor vote.

In states like California and Michigan, public referenda let voters get a direct voice in taking medical cannabis out of the drug war. Wisconsin could be a leader in this issue, but only if we have legislative leadership to take a step toward ending punitive drug policies that take away patients’ treatment options and deny basic individual rights.

Find out more on the work the ACLU is doing nationally on drug law reform. The ACLU of Wisconsin was Tweeting live from the hearing – you can follow us on Twitter for more news and updates on civil liberties issues. Read our blog post on the introduction of the medical marijuana bill in Wisconsin.