MADISON (WKOW) -- Debate over the medical marijuana bill lit up Tuesday, as the Assembly Public Health Committee heard public testimonies from both sides of the issue.
Most members of the audience supported Senate Bill 368, or the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, which would legalize the growth, possession and consumption of marijuana for people with serious illnesses, if their doctor recommended it.
The bill is named after Jacki Rickert, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connected tissues disorder that has left her in a wheelchair. Rickert says marijuana provides the safest, best treatment for her condition, easing her pain and increasing her appetite.
"I've gone from 64 pounds up to now... I'm maintaining 94 pounds," said Rickert.
Many other patients agree marijuana is the most effective treatment for their illnesses, and say it's time for them to stop worrying about doing something illegal to feel better.
"I'm a living medical miracle; why should I be a criminal? Now because my medicine is illegal, I haven't been able to live a normal life. I've been shamed and put down and forced to go out on the streets. It's time for it to end," said Gary Storck, who suffers from glaucoma and a number of other chronic illnesses.
Opponents of the bill fear legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes would lead to a slippery slope that would ultimately end in full legalization statewide. Rep. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) accused the bill's authors of having ulterior motives behind pushing the legislation.
"You're using people who are dying of cancer as a shield," said Vukmir. "I think it's nothing more than a ruse for you to move toward full legalization of marijuana."
But state senator John Erpenbach (D-Waunakee) insists he supports marijuana for health care purposes only.
The bill's opponents say it is written too loosely, and that under the current restrictions, nearly half of Wisconsin residents could hold a medical marijuana permit.
But for Rickert, it's about being able to take the only medicine that works.
"If there was a simpler way, don't you think it would be much simpler to do it?" asked Rickert. "But there just doesn't seem to be. Cannabis works best."
Under the bill, anyone with a prescription for medical marijuana would be able to grow as many as 12 plants and have as much as three ounces of the drug with them at any given time.
Many similar bills have all failed to pass out of the Assembly Public Health Committee. The committee plans to vote on this version some time before the end of 2009.