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Ex-alderman asks legal marijuana for medical use

Posted by Gary Storck on June 7, 2001
Source: Wisconsin State Journal
Originally published on August 1, 1979

Author: Richard Eggleston, Associated Press
Copyright 1979, 2001 Wisconsin State Journal


One man who suffers from glaucoma and another who has cancer urged Wisconsin lawmakers Tuesday to make marijuana legal for individuals in their predicaments.

"It would be cruel not to pass this legislation for fear that people might misinterpret our intent," attorney Donald Murdoch, a former alderman from Madison's 2nd (near East Side) District, told an Assembly Committee. "Marijuana can help. I know from my own experience."

Murdoch said marijuana alleviated the nausea of cancer chemotherapy and radiation treatments he underwent after cancer was discovered in its early stages in his lymphatic system.

Robert Randall of Washington, D.C., said marijuana proved to be useful in controlling his glaucoma, a disease marked by high pressure in the eyeball that eventually leads to blindness.

Without marijuana, his only recourse was risky surgery, but the government resisted his attempts to obtain marijuana legally, and he was arrested in 1974 for growing his own, Randall related.

Now Randall, who won a lawsuit to obtain legal marijuana, carries the marijuana cigarettes, prescribed for him by an eye doctor, in a brown plastic pill bottle bearing his name and the instruction, "Smoke as directed."

Randall said he smokes 10 of the cigarettes daily and has not suffered any additional deterioration of his sight.

He and Murdoch testified before the Assembly Health and Social Services Committee in behalf of a bill by state Rep. David Clarenbach, D-Madison, that would allow marijuana to be prescribed for glaucoma and cancer sufferers.

State Rep. Stephen Leopold, D-Milwaukee, said he has a constituent who has glaucoma and obtains marijuana illegally for the condition.

"Right now he has to break the law to receive adequate treatment," said Leopold, who added that his constituent was unwilling to testify in behalf of the bill for fear of prosecution.

The bill received generally favorable reception from witnesses, although there was some concern that the federal government would take too long to provide marijuana to help those who need it, and that providing them with street drugs confiscated by police might be risky because the quality of the drug could not be guaranteed.

The only opponent at the hearing was Dr. Philip F. Mussari of Necedah, a psychiatrist, who contended that marijuana had been shown to cause brain damage, a conclusion challenged by other physicians at the hearing.

Opinion was much more divided on another bill sponsored by Clarenbach, to make the penalties for possession of up to three ounces civil rather than criminal, a process commonly known as decriminalization.

Studies purporting to show brain damage from marijuana use have been discredited by later studies using more sophisticated techniques that showed no such effect, said Dr. James Halikas, a Milwaukee psychiatrist who has studied alcoholism and drug abuse for 11 years.

The victims of marijuana use are not nearly as visible as victims of alcohol or tobacco use, and marijuana appears to be the safest of the three drugs, Halikas said.

"Marijuana is relatively safe, relatively innocuous," he said. "The prohibitions against its use are inordinately excessive."

Tamerin Mathieson of Sturtevant, a high school teacher speaking in behalf of the Wisconsin Congress of Parents and Teachers, opposed marijuana decriminalization, asserting that time will prove the PTA right.

"It is our belief that very shortly the horrendous price being paid by marijuana users in brain damage, birth defects, deprivation of sensory stimulation, lung damage and more will become a well-publicized fact," she said. "This would be a very poor time to lower our legal standards."

Whitewater Police Chief Don Simon also testified against the decriminalization proposal in behalf of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association.

He asked the Legislature instead to provide law enforcement with a method of detecting marijuana in the bodies of drivers similar to the Breathalyzer test for alcohol.

Andrew Kane of Milwaukee, speaking for the National Association for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said neither he or his group condone the use of the substance.

He said the civil penalties that would replace criminal sanctions under Clarenbach's bill would still be stiffer than the penalties meted out to most first offenders in Wisconsin today, but would not carry the lifelong stigma of a criminal arrest. 


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