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The deep roots of the fight for medical cannabis in Wisconsin

The North Hearing Room at the Wisconsin State Capitol was the site of an historic medical cannabis hearing on July 31, 1979.
The North Hearing Room at the Wisconsin State Capitol was the site of an historic medical cannabis hearing on July 31, 1979.
Gary Storck

Thirty-five years ago this July 31, the drive to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin was heating up with a hearing in the Capitol's stately North Hearing Room.

Wisconsin Capitol
Madison NORML Examiner

On July 31, 1979, a public hearing was held on AB 279, the Therapeutic Cannabis Research Act (TCRA), at the State Capitol, and the late Robert Randall, a fellow glaucoma patient and the first legal federal medical cannabis patient testified in support of the bill.

The Assembly committee heard personal testimony from Robert Randall, "The Father of Medical Marijuana," a glaucoma patient from Washington D.C. who successfully sued the federal government to obtain 300 0.9 gram pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes each month. Wisconsin NORML helped arrange his testimony. Also testifying in favor was a Madison attorney and former alder Donald Murdoch, a cancer patient.

There was testimony about another patient from his Assembly rep. This man was an anonymous 24 year old glaucoma patient from Milwaukee who chose not to testify for fear of arrest - me. I was present and it was my first visit to our State Capitol.

By the time the TCRA ultimately was passed overwhelmingly and signed into law in 1982, the wording had been amended to the point where prospective patients doctors had to apply to federal authorities in a lengthy process.

Robert Randall passed away in 2001. While his dream of legal access for Wisconsin patients remains unfulfilled, his archives have come to Madison and are now part of the State Historical Society collection. His widow, Alice O'Leary, told me the archives should be open to the public this fall.

While the Therapeutic Cannabis Research Act (TCRA) may have ended up being more symbolic than anything, it did put the state of Wisconsin on record as supporting whole plant cannabis along with a total 34 states.

It was puzzling earlier this year to see lawmakers hurriedly and unanimously pass a bill not unlike the TCRA but covering only low-THC/high CBD medical marijuana extractions. After all, the state already has a law on the books recognizing the medicinal utility of whole plant marijuana, the TCRA.

Meanwhile, lawmakers failed to muster majority support for legislation that would benefit thousands of Wisconsinites, AB480 and SB363, introduced by Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison).

These bills, named the Jacki Rickert Medical Cannabis Act (JRMCA) honor Wisconsin patient/advocate Jacki Rickert. Rickert's late doctor was able to gain approval for her in 1990 in the same IND program Robert Randall's 1976 lawsuit created, but federal authorities never supplied her as they had contracted to do.

In 1978, Robert Randall and the US Dept. of Health, Education & Welfare (HEW) had provided me with the federal paperwork but I was unable to find a doctor to file on my behalf.

As for Wisconsin patients and those who care about them, state lawmakers and their indifference continues to send them out on the streets to get crude versions of what patients in other states are able to access at clean, well-lit legal businesses. While some patients are willing to break the law, often at the urging of concerned family members, fear of arrest and decades of reefer madness keep most patients who could benefit in pain.

Polling has consistently found Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support medical cannabis. After voting 75.49%in favor of medical cannabis in 2010, Dane County Wisconsin voted 64.5% in favor of full legalization this April, suggesting that public support for cannabis prohibition is ending here in Wisconsin too.

Voters have their say this year with primary elections scheduled for Tuesday, August 12, 2014. and the general election for Tuesday, November 4, 2014. According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB), offices up for election include Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Representative in Congress, State Senator (odd-numbered districts) Representatives to the Assembly (all districts). County offices up for election are Sheriff, Clerk of Circuit Court and Coroner (where applicable).

If you are eligible to vote, please visit the GAB Voter Information Center at You can find out how to register if you are a first time voter, locate where you vote, see your voting history, see a copy of your ballot etc from the GAB here: Students please note that the fall primary has been moved to August from September if your address will change during that time.

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