WAUKESHA – You could say medical marijuana seemed high on the list of issues Waukesha alderman Aaron Perry wanted the city to address.
But, understandably, he might object to that phrasing, because, first, it’s not the kind of issue Perry has typically¬†associated¬†himself with, and, second, the type of cannabis usage he was concerned with has¬†nothing to do with getting “high.”
So before the common council picked up on what turned out to be a mild debate on whether the city should include a¬†medical marijuana advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 general election¬†ballot, the District 12 alderman wanted to make certain things clear.
“I’ll be honest, when I was first elected, this is not something I thought I would¬†bring before¬†to the common council,” he said at recent¬†meeting. “That being said, I also didn’t think I would sit¬†across the couch from a constituent who has family members battling cancer and depression and learning about the usage of this.”
In July, Perry had made a referral to get the issue on the Aug. 7 council agenda. Specifically, the measure, which ultimately passed on a 7-4 vote, will ask this question:
“Should cannabis be legalized in Wisconsin for medicinal purposes, and regulated in the same manner as other prescription drugs?”
It’s a non-binding referendum, meaning the results will not require state legislators to act in any way. And there is no local authority if voters do vote “yes.”
But to Perry, who¬†had only recently become aware of the arguments supporting the use of cannabis oils in health care, the question is what’s important.
“Just to be clear, this is a part of the longer process,” he said. “This is a free poll for our state legislators. … What we are doing here is giving the folks we represent an opportunity to be heard on a topic.”
The focus ‚ÄĒ for legalization of a substance that is part cannabidiol (CBD) oil with a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive element of cannabis¬†frequently associated with criminal charges¬†‚ÄĒ is strictly medical.
“We’re not talking recreational marijuana. We’re not talking about smoking weed. We’re not talking about getting high,” Perry said.
Instead, as noted in the proposed resolution, central to the Aug. 7 discussion, medical marijuana often focuses on an alternative form of pain relief, whether the cause of discomfort is rheumatic arthritis, cancer and other serious health ailments. Perry stressed that its use could help control the controversial use of opioids, highly addictive pain killers that continue to be heavily prescribed.
More than 30 states have passed some type of law legalizing medical marijuana, and eight Wisconsin counties have already¬†opted to put an advisory referendum on the fall ballot, he noted. Eight more are considering it. As of Aug. 7, no Wisconsin city had done so.
“So we have an opportunity here to be a leader in the state as the first city that would have this on the ballot,” Perry added.
Not surprisingly on a controversial topic, which remains widely debated nationally, the council’s views were not unanimous.
Some aldermen fully supported the idea of an advisory referendum.
“At the end of the day, whatever your political perspective is,¬†I believe in the ground-up politics,” Cory Payne said. “The smallest level we can get to is local municipalities. That will help the people in Madison direct and govern our state, then potentially go to Washington. … I’m interested in seeing how the people of this city feel.”
Cassie Rodriguez also stressed the importance letting local residents have input on the topic.¬†
“I also want to let everybody¬†know here that even if you personally may not agree¬†with this, it’s not necessarily about you,” Rodriguez said. “This is about you allowing the constituents to have a voice and get their voice heard.”
Other aldermen¬†chose not to focus on the merits or demerits of medical marijuana, but strongly questioned why the city should, in effect, get involved in an issue in which it has no authority.
“I truly believe that this is a state issue,” Kathleen Cummings said. “If the advisory referendum was to pass, we don’t have the authority to make ordinances or change laws within the city to deal with this. …¬†How often do we hear ‘Why is the state meddling in our business?’ … I don’t know enough about this, but I do know enough that this is not a city issue.”
She added that the city’s decision to add the medical marijuana question to any ballot could be viewed as a kind of advocacy in favor of the issue.
Joe Pieper noted he includes himself among those who have been frustrated when state legislators set policies that are best left to local municipalities.
“I’m the first one to throw my arms up in the air and complain to Madison for meddling in our business,” Pieper said. “All of our state representatives probably see me¬†on their cellphone and contemplate sending me to voicemail.¬†That’s part of the challenge that I have. Right or wrong, it is somewhat hypocritical for me to start poking at something that I view as truly a state issue at the local level.”
The council also heard from several residents in the public comment segment of the Aug. 7 meeting. Most, though not all, supported putting¬†the question on the ballot.
With the council’s vote, city staff was authorized to take whatever steps are needed to make sure the referendum is in place for voters on Nov. 6.
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