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Should Dane County hold an advisory referendum on legalizing medical marijuana in Wisconsin?

In a nutshell

Federal law prohibits the manufacture, sale and possession of marijuana, but 14 states and the District of Columbia, have passed laws allowing the distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

An effort to pass a similar law in Wisconsin during the last legislative session failed, but supporters have begun a campaign to place an advisory referendum on local ballots in November that would call upon the state to legalize medical marijuana.

On Thursday, Dane County became the first county in the state to introduce a resolution that, if passed, would place the following question on the fall ballot: "Should the Wisconsin Legislature enact legislation allowing residents with debilitating medical conditions to acquire and possess marijuana for medical purposes if supported by their physician?"

The case for it

Sup. John Hendrick, of Madison, who introduced the resolution, said the issue failed because the legislative session ended. Holding a referendum would send a signal that the public wants the issue addressed. "Personally I'm in favor of (legalizing medical marijuana)," he said. "I don't think the county needs to make that decision, but I think the county is saying we are going to give the voters a chance to speak."

Gary Storck, president of the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he hopes the referendum campaign will educate the public and elected officials. "Perhaps in areas it's on the ballot, it will have a coattails effect in helping candidates who embrace medical marijuana," Storck said.

The case against it

Sup. Eileen Bruskewitz, of Waunakee, said Hendrick's constituents should be contacting their state representatives directly, rather than taking up County Board time on the matter.

"We shouldn't be doing these kinds of lobbying things on the County Board," Bruskewitz said. "There are endless issues we could bring for referendum before the people, but we don't."

The Wisconsin Medical Society has recommended further study of smoked marijuana in patients who have serious conditions and that the substance continue to be illegal until such studies are complete. "Smoked marijuana should not be used for therapeutic reasons without scientific data regarding its safety and efficacy for specific indications," according to the society.

To get involved

The issue will be considered by the County Board's Executive Committee before coming back to the full County Board for a vote. Referendums for the November ballot must be approved and submitted to the county clerk's office by Sept. 28.

To contact your Dane County Board supervisor visit www.countyofdane.com/board/supervisors.aspx or call the County Board office at (608) 266-5758.

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