News coverage of Rep. Melissa Sargent’s July 13 press conference announcing her new cannabis legalization proposal, LRB-2457 included a number of over the top reactions from lawmakers, law enforcement and health care and addiction professionals.
While Rep. Sargent has made a great case for passing LRB-2457, proactively addressing the predictable reactions from opponents, a review of news coverage of the announcement of the 102-page bill finds that for many opponents, her words fell on deaf ears.
Below are some examples of the cannabigoted spin cannabis opponents regularly engage in. You won’t find any concerns about what putting cannabis users in cages does or how cannabis is a treatment for the state’s opioid crisis. Cannabis is also known as a safer substitute for alcohol. Wisconsin’s opioid crisis gets a lot of attention, but Wisconsin is well known as a state where people drink heavily. For the second year in a row, seven of the 10 drunkest cities in the U.S. are in Wisconsin, according to data from County Health Rankings & Roadmaps (CHRR), a joint initiative from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin.
Despite the potential benefits of cannabis for those struggling with opioid or alcohol abuse, along with replacing harmful prescription drugs with cannabis, too many so-called experts still seem to prefer Wisconsin’s draconian pot laws.
Wisconsin Public Radio reported the immediate reactions of the GOP legislative leadership on the day of the announcement: A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau said he would review Sargent’s bill. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office said he opposes it.
FOX 11 News reported State Senator Roger Roth (R-Appleton) said there are too many unknowns about legalizing the drug:
“Does it lead to be a gateway drug? Are young minors finding access to it more easily? Are there negative consequences, or are there really positive things? Do we find that the tax benefits from it make it worthwhile?”
“I don’t think we should have the conversation until 2025 when we’ve had a decade’s-worth of data to comb through and really understand how this will affect our society,” Roth said of future numbers from states with legal marijuana.
Steffen said, “The youth has really had some negative consequences on brain development, academic performance, and so I think there are some watch outs that still exist as relates to recreational broad access to marijuana.”
NBC26 also reported that Republican state lawmakers they reached out to “say the proposal of the bill will be reviewed but it’s unlikely to get much support. Meanwhile marijuana supporters say they’ll continue pushing to make cannabis legal in Wisconsin.”
Most of Wisconsin’s county sheriffs have been openly hostile to any loosening of Wisconsin cannabis laws and WEAU reported Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said legalizing “could do more harm than good and would have similar consequences to the legalization of alcohol.”
“Opening that door, like we did for prohibition for alcohol, is opening up a whole other layer for problematic things for counties and municipalities to deal with.”
Sheriff Cramer claimed states like Colorado that have legalized the drug have seen increases in robberies, drug related school suspensions, and marijuana DUI’s that can be difficult to detect since there isn’t an in-field sobriety test.
“In law enforcement we’re supposed to be trained in all these different things and delineate between a medical conditions or just simply overuse of marijuana or an opioid. So, it’s pretty frustrating. I just don’t think we need this other layer of problems in our society.”
Cramer also echoes opponents tired talking points over monitoring cannabis edibles, “it may be difficult to keep out of the hands of children” and that monitoring the levels of THC in marijuana products may also cause issues.
And with Democratic State Representative Melissa Sargent out of Madison pushing for the legalization of marijuana, detecting and prosecuting these impaired drivers could become more difficult for law enforcement.
“There is a lot more training at different levels that officers need to have. The Wausau Police department has numerous drug recognition experts. To receive that certification its a 5 week training on the physiology and pharmacology of alcohol and drugs and how they affect the human body,” Barnes told WSAW.
Barnes also told WSAW “no matter the outcome of the proposed legislation the department will continue to crack down on drugged driving.”
Health Care Processionals
Judi Zabel, a Health Educator with the La Crosse County Health Department recited to WXOW the classic prohibitionist nugget, “Marijuana today is not the same as it was in the 70s and the 80s. It was only 3-percent level of THC in those early years. But now, we’re looking at marijuana levels between 10 and 17-percent for smoking it here in La Crosse County.“
An emergency medicine physician, Dr. Chris Eberlein with Gunderson Health System, is another opponent from La Crosse:
“Like any other substance that affects your brain activity, your motor skills, your memory–all of these things can lead to disasters. It can lead to car accidents. You’re seeing an increase in ER visits due to psychosis, depression, anxiety–all related directly to marijuana.”
“This is not a benign drug. It has serious consequences, and we have to be aware of those as we go forward in making decisions on whether it should be legalized for our state.”
Eberlein was also quoted in a report from WIZM from La Crosse which also shared his comments. Eberlein works at Gundersen in La Crosse. As a side note, Gundersen is affiliated with Mayo Clinics, and Mayo supports medical cannabis and even has a webpage with dosing guidelines for medical pot:
“Really, look at what’s happened in Colorado and some of these other states. And a lot of it’s not good. They’re going to be dealing with a lot of issues, especially with younger people becoming addicted. An increase in car accidents from impaired drivers.“
Eberlein follows the typical prohibitionist strategy by fearmongering off all the anti-pot propaganda being spouted about legalization in Colorado Eberlein even tossed in the prohibitionist classic nugget, that it’s a “slippery slope,” but then after all his hysteria acknowledged the passage of the bill is a long shot at best.
Madison NORML and a couple other groups have partnered to create a Lobby Day at the Capitol on August 1, 2017. While it’s short notice, it does offer another opportunity to join a combined effort to meet with lawmakers and express support. Those who can’t make it should contact their elected reps and request their support for LRB-2457. While its chances of progressing are not looking good this session, it remains important that state lawmakers and Gov. Walker are aware this issue has majority support in Wisconsin. Walker will not be governor forever and hopefully, Wisconsin will seriously address this issue sooner than later. In the meantime, direct legislation appears to be the main avenue available to decriminalizing pot at the local level while awaiting action by the state.