Echoes of Whole Plant Cannabis at Wisconsin CBD bill hearing

Senators and staff listen as testimony is heard on SB221, which would legaalize CBD without a prescription in Wisconsin, but provide no means of acquiring the cannabinoid, which is a form of medical cannabis. (Cannabadger.com)
Senators and staff listen as testimony is heard on SB221, which would legaalize CBD without a prescription in Wisconsin, but provide no means of acquiring the cannabinoid, which is a form of medical cannabis. (Cannabadger.com)

The Wisconsin Senate’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, held a hearing starting at 10am Tuesday, Nov. 24 on bipartisan cannabidiol legislation SB221, which would remove the need for a prescription to possess CBD in Wisconsin. The committee chairman Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine),is also the senate sponsor of the bill. The hearing was originally set for a smaller room but was moved to a much larger hearing room, 411 South.

While all five committee members were listed as present in the record of committee proceedings, Senator Van Wanggaard and Senators Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) were actually physically present in the room, with Senators Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), listening remotely on the phone. The notorious anti-pot zealot Vukmir was silent.

READ: Record of Committee Proceedings
Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
For the Public Hearing on 11/24/2015 10:00 AM

WATCH: Video of the entire hearing from Wisconsin Eye

WATCH: WisconsinEye: Morning Minute: Eliminating the Requirements for CBD Oil to be Excluded from the Definition of THC (Updated 8:20am 2015-11-28)

READ: Senator, Lena C. Taylor: Legislatively Speaking: CBD Bill Back Before Legislature  (Updated 7:40pm 2015-11-28)

The public hearing, while officially about legalizing one of the numerous cannabinoids found in whole plant cannabis, cannabidiol or CBD, brought up many points in favor from both lawmakers and those testifying in favor that could equally apply to the whole plant. Medical cannabis was the proverbial “elephant in the room.”

We got to the hearing a little late, but stuck until the end. By the time it concluded it had run a little over three hours. Twelve testified, 11 in favor and one against,

Sally Schaeffer, the mother of Lydia, the late namesake of the 2014 CBD law, speaks in favor. (Caanabadger.com)
Sally Schaeffer, the mother of Lydia, the late namesake of the 2014 CBD law, speaks in favor. (Caanabadger.com)

Sen. Wanggaard had concluded his testimony in favor and Sally Schaeffer, the mother of Lydia, the young seizure patient the 2014 law was named for and who later passed away, was still up, with video playing. One of the topics she discussed was federal CBD legislation that U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has cosponsored, HR1635, Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act of 2015. Congressman Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced HR1635 earlier this year, and there are now 60 co-sponsors – including Wisconsin Reps. Ryan, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls and Glenn Grothman, (R-Glenbeulah).

The bulk of testimony in favor came from mothers and grandmothers of children with seizure disorders. Over and over, they talked about trying to manage their child’s condition and the failure of conventional treatments. They talked of the children being prescribed medications with dangerous, potentially fatal side effects, not even recommended for use by young children. Lots of tears. The box of tissue on the witness table got a lot of use.

Rebecca Arnold of Pleasant Prairie, mother of a child with a seizure disorder, testifies in favor. (Cannabadger.com)
Rebecca Arnold of Pleasant Prairie, mother of a child with a seizure disorder, testifies in favor. (Cannabadger.com)

The third speaker was Rebecca Arnold of Pleasant Prairie. She detailed how dozens of medications and repeated brain surgeries, including four surgeries in two months failed to control her daughter’s seizures. She would like to have the option to try the CBD oil but she’s afraid of the legal consequences.

“Right now we are making choices out of fear, we’re afraid to do brain surgery again, we’re afraid of using CBD behind closed doors. I’m afraid of losing my job and therefore Regan’s primary insurance. We’re afraid to move to a new state, afraid to talk to doctors about CBD, afraid to reduce her current med load, afraid of losing my daughter to Child Protective Services if caught with CBD, afraid of losing my daughter to an early death.”Rebecca Arnold at hearing.

Many of these fears are the same fears of seriously ill Wisconsinites illegally using whole plant cannabis to manage their conditions and try to find some quality of life.

Dec. 15, 2009 Combined Health Committee Hearing on Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (JRMMA): Jacki Rickert, Gary Storck, Rep. Mark Pocan, Sen. Jon Erpenbach. (Source: Mark Pocan for Congress-2012.
Dec. 15, 2009 Combined Health Committee Hearing on Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act (JRMMA): Jacki Rickert, Gary Storck, Rep. Mark Pocan, Sen. Jon Erpenbach. (Source: Mark Pocan for Congress-2012.)

It reminded me of the Dec. 15, 2009 combined health committee hearing on the JRMMA which was also quite emotional. So many came to testify it ran over 8 hours long, with many who had traveled long distances in poor weather unable to stay until they were called. So many patients, family members and other supporters registered to testify that a 5 minute limit was set. That day was a high water mark for medical cannabis in the state legislature unseen since.

And just as at that 2009 hearing, the Wisconsin Medical Society was on hand to testify against.

Dr. Jerry Halverson, speaking on behalf of the Wisconsin Medical Society, of which he is the current president, followed. According to the Government Accountability Board lobbying database, just three groups have registered as lobbying against SB221, the Medical Society, WI Chiefs of Police Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association. Of the two law enforcement groups, Alice O’Connor, representing WI Chiefs of Police Association registered against. That was the only registration against.

Dr. Halverson’s testimony produced the biggest sparks when he was sharply confronted by the three senators present.

Of 8 registrations in favor, two came from state lawmakers Senator Bob Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) and Rep. Robb Kahl (D-Monona). The other 6 included myself representing IMMLY.org and Karen Kinsley and Jennica Stein on behalf of Madison NORML, and Arthur Taggart reprsenting the Epilepsy Foundation of WI.

Greg Kinsley spoke in favor on behalf of Wisconsin NORML. and Mark Kelderman, spoke in favor on behalf of the Columbus Cannabis Initiative.
Greg Kinsley spoke in favor on behalf of Wisconsin NORML. and Mark Kelderman, spoke in favor on behalf of the Columbus Cannabis Initiative.

Greg Kinsley, a medical cannabis patient, spoke in favor on behalf of Wisconsin NORML. He was the only speaker to discuss the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). He also discussed Wisconsin Statutes that allow the use of cannabis with a letter from a physician, and discussed a case he  and his wife were involved in in the city of Baraboo in 2014, where local authorities declined to prosecute due to physician authorizations. Also speaking in favor was Mark Kelderman, a cancer survivor representing the Columbus Cannabis Initiative. Unfortunately, Cannabadger does not have video clips of their testimony, but it can be viewed on Wisconsin Eye.

Previously, a hearing was held on the bipartisan Assembly version of the bill, AB228, on June 3, 2015. In 2014, lawmakers had passed 2013 Wisconsin Act 267, which legalized CBD with a prescription. This required federal approval and thus no patients were helped. This session’s legislation is intended to correct that.

If this legislation passes it will be a win that Wisconsin is again going on record that medical cannabis works. But without addressing any means of acquiring CBD legally in Wisconsin, one has to wonder what the impact will be. And while state tribes want to produce CBD for Wisconsin patients, the recent raid on the Menominee Nation hemp farm, which the tribe had been very transparent about and believed it was legal under federal law, shows that route still needs to be worked through.

CBD is just one of the many compounds in whole plant cannabis with therapeutic properties for seizure patients. Another is Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, like other acid cannabinoids, is not psychoactive. THC-A is strongly anti-inflammatory, encourages appetite, is anti-tumor, combats insomnia, and is antispasmodic.  Unfortunately, demonization of THC and “getting high” and many decades of anti-pot propaganda have made some fearful of even educating themselves about it.

Documents from open record requests show that lawmakers knew little of what CBD was when the legislation passed in 2014 was first being discussed in late 2013. That some, including Sen. Wanggaard, a former law enforcement person, are getting more comfortable in discussing its benefits is major progress. But for patients who desperately need legal access to cannabis today, how much longer should they have to wait to get in the lifeboat?

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau

Current law designates tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) as a schedule I controlled substance. Current law specifies that THC does not include cannabidiol (CBD oil) in a form without a psychoactive effect that is dispensed by a pharmacy or physician approved by the Controlled Substances Board or that is possessed by an individual who has documentation from a physician that the CBD oil is used for the treatment of a seizure disorder. This bill eliminates the requirement that, to be excluded from the definition of THC, the CBD oil must be dispensed by an approved pharmacy or physician or possessed by an individual with such documentation.

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