Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, sees no problem in using veterans and active duty military as props in the Capitol holiday tree lighting ceremony, but when it comes to helping them deal with service-related disabilities, he apparently couldn’t care less.

That’s the message sent loud and clear by Fitzgerald in turning the annual nonpartisan Capitol holiday tree lighting into a partisan event then attacking protesters who showed up because of the politics.

Fitzgerald’s true concern for veterans became evident in comments from his spokesperson Andrew Welhouse opposing the new medical cannabis bill, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act. The JRMMA was introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and includes post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition.

PTSD is a frequent complaint of Iraq and Afghanistan vets and suicide has overtaken combat fatalities as the major cause of death for U.S. service people. Welhouse claimed the bill does not have the support necessary to become law.

Fitzgerald knows that means support in the current Legislature, not among the populace. Indeed, he was himself outpolled by medical cannabis in the November 2010 elections. Portions of Fitzgerald’s district are in Dane County, which held an advisory referendum in November asking if state lawmakers should pass a medical cannabis bill. The referendum carried countywide by a 75 percent margin. In the six Dane County wards of Fitzgerald’s district, the senator was easily outpolled by yes votes in each. An open records request to Fitzgerald’s office covering last session’s bill actually found unanimous support among the hundreds of constituents who took the time to contact him.

Fitzgerald should find the courage to explain his position to Erin Silbaugh, a 28-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war. The former Marine sergeant from Lodi attended the bill’s press conference recently at the Capitol.

Silbaugh returned from Iraq with PTSD, and soon found that cannabis helped treat his symptoms much better than the numerous drugs prescribed by the VA, each with its own laundry list of side effects.

“I’m forced to hide within my own country to be able to use medicine that helps me,” Silbaugh said at the news conference.

I guess Fitzgerald is just taking a cue from his Assembly colleague Rep. Keith Ripp, R-Lodi. Last session when Silbaugh asked Ripp if it was fair that he should face arrest and jail for using his medicine to treat his service-related disability, Ripp simply shrugged his shoulders.

Gary Storck of Madison is a longtime activist for medical marijuana and communications director for Is My Medicine Legal YET?

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