With our neighboring Midwestern states surrounding Wisconsin with cannabis policy reforms, a majority public opinion favoring some form of legalization and with the governor’s support, why would Wisconsin NORML need a lobby day at the capital in Madison? The truth is, there is much more work to be done!
After a long day of meetings and presentations, what republican policymakers seemed to be continuously asking for was evidence, proof, more information and testimony about the efficacy of cannabis for medicinal purposes in particular.
Norah Lowe has Rhett’s syndrome which makes it difficult for her to control her movements or speak. Despite this, she has given several testimonies to county boards about the value of medicinal cannabis for her condition and on lobby day, she addressed republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo. Norah is 10 years old. Her parents Megan and Josh say to those in opposition of medical cannabis, “Here is your evidence.”
“I hear you, I understand you, I am smart,” Norah says to Sanfelippo through her digital device. Before beginning treatment with CBD oil, she was on six prescription medications. Now she is down to just one.
Megan and Josh live in Sauk County in his family’s sixth generation farm house. They don’t understand why their only option to get treatment for their daughter may be to move away from the place they have lived all of their lives and they are not the only family going through this crisis. Norah’s friends with Rhett’s out of state have said that THC has immensely helped their symptoms, particularly with seizures. Norah’s parents are desperate for the opportunity to try these treatments without risk of criminal prosecution, driving out of state or leaving their home altogether. The current cost of CBD oil in Wisconsin has also driven the Lowe’s to grow their own hemp to produce the oil themselves. They will leave WI if they have to though, to get the best possible care for Norah.
Sanfelippo listened through their story and said he sympathized with them and their situation, however insisted that he was listening to the professionals about the ill effects of cannabis. He cited the American Psychiatric Society as deeming cannabis “as dangerous to children as lead.”
The path to legalization starts with dispelling the stigma and disinformation surrounding cannabis. Stories and testimonies are needed; from professionals, doctors, parents with children who have benefitted from cannabis treatments and veterans who use it to ease their anxiety, PTSD and injuries. This strategy includes educating representatives on the needs and will of their constituents and bringing all of the pro-cannabis community into the conversation.
“As always we really want to educate these lawmakers; that’s our goal every time we come here,” said Alan Robinson, executive director of Wisconsin NORML. “We want to impress upon them that their constituents matter, their constituents want cannabis.”
There are successful models of cannabis policy in other states that need to be looked as WI gears up for the introduction of several cannabis bills in the fall. It needs to be made clear to policymakers that a restrictive medical bill that grants access only to a small portion of “qualified” patients is not enough for the residents of WI who across every county in majority voted yes last fall for some form of legalization in the non-binding referendum.
Executive Director Eric Marsch of Southeastern WI NORML knows that a restrictive medical bill, while a step in the right direction, isn’t pushing the needle far enough.
“We want to make sure that patients are allowed to grow their own, so that they’re able to control costs and guarantee access to a strain that works best for them,” Marsch said. There are around 113 cannabinoids in the plant in which different strains help alleviate different symptoms and disorders in varied forms such as edibles, tinctures, whole plants and oils.
“We want doctors to be able to choose what conditions a patient is qualified to get medical cannabis for rather than just having a narrow list that restricts who is able to have access to it,” Marsch added.
For families like Norah’s and countless other pro-cannabis supporters, their question to policymakers is this:
“How do we start that conversation; how do we work together on this?” Norah’s dad Josh asked Sanfellipo.
Presenting a united front of advocacy, education and reform must be a priority of all WI constituents who voted yes for cannabis and have had their voices ignored by those who would claim to represent them.