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Marijuana marathon
Lafayette County Law Enforcement Committee, surrounded by interested parties, hear comments at their meeting held Tuesday, July 16 regarding an ordinance and resolution that opposes marijuana and prohibits the sale of marijuana in the county. - photo by Brian Lund

DARLINGTON - Lafayette County Law Enforcement Committee met Tuesday, July 16, 2019 in a jam-packed Sheriff’s Depatment Conference Room to consider a resolution and ordinance that would oppose legalization and not allow the sale of marijuana in Lafayette County.

The meeting had approximately 30 interested individuals present in the small room and Sheriff Reg Gill and Committee Chair Gerald Hiemann gave each party three minutes to speak their piece. The meeting was cordial for the most part - opinions, data and personal accounts regarding CBD and cannabis were shared.

Hiemann opened the floor to public comment.

First to speak was Steve Acheson of Blanchardville, who at the previous meeting that dealt with this subject and engaged in a war of words with County Board Chairman Jack Sauer (Sauer was not in attendance at this meeting).

In a prepared statement Acheson began by thanking the Law Enforcement Committee for the opportunity to speak. Then introduced himself as a founding member of Wisconsin Veterans for Compassionate Care, and a founding member of South Central Hemp Co-operative.

Acheson said, “I am not here to be an adversary to this committee. I am here because I feel deeply about the veterans of this county and for all the residents that will be affected by this ordinance. I’m here to share fact-based information and my own experience, to help this issue.”

“The resolution contains a great deal of concern of youth use, research published last week in the Journal for the American Medical Association concluded that states with adult use cannabis laws had a 8% reduction of casual use by teens and a 9% reduction in regular usage,” Acheson said, “This finding is due to a reduction in access to the black market, because legal cannabis dispensaries have traceability from seed to sale and a high degree of security measures in place. The evidence is clear - the fastest method to reduce youth use is to legalize and regulate cannabis.”

Acheson went on to make several other points, including: licensed cannabis dispensaries have been linked to decreased or no change in crime rates and increased property values; nationally, the fastest growing users of medical cannabis are those that are 65 and older; medical cannabis saved Medicare type B over $165 million in 2013 and decreased daily hydrocodone use by 17% and a 21% in daily morphine use; and four of the major veterans service organization – VFW, American Legion, Military Order of the Purple Heart and Disabled American Veterans support the implementation of a statewide medical cannabis program.

Acheson opened his bag and pulled out several pill bottles and said, “This is what the VA prescribed me in 2008 when I got home; pills, pills and more pills. I’ve had three spinal surgery’s related to an injury I sustained while deployed in 2005 in Iraq. In 2008, I was prescribed seven pills a day – I was a zombie. Today I am relatively pill free. The National Academy for Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has concluded that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective treatment for chronic pain. I want other veterans, farmers and residents of this county to safely experience and legally access a natural alternative, one that can be grown and sold by farmers right here in Lafayette County. This will help our small family farmers diversify into a crop that is actually profitable.”

Acheson then talked about hemp products looking like marijuana and asked how law enforcement would be able to tell the difference between them without expensive testing.

Acheson finished up, “If these documents are meant to serve the people of Lafayette County, don’t you think you should ask them first and include a question on legalization in the next election in a non-binding referendum?”

Michelle Godez of Dodgeville commented, “I think this is closing the door to marijuana, is closing the door prematurely. I think there are a lot of opportunities for people to make a living and have money come into our communities.”

Alan Robinson of Madison introduced himself as the executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Madison Chapter.

Robinson said, “I have a farm in Shawano County. My interests are state wide on this subject. The banning of cannabis is premature. I’m concerned for individuals that want to get their hands on medication that we know is effective and safe. I was talking with a law enforcement officer who wanted to use Cannabidiol (CBD) oil. CBD is known to have 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis), 0.3% is legal under the law, but law enforcement has a zero tolerance policy and the officer could be terminated.”

Robinson continued, “The conversation we should be having is about how we can safely get access to people who want cannabis medication. A better conversation is how to put cannabis behind the counters. I understand your fear is that the youth will get a hold of it. Regulation works. Drug dealers do not check ID’s, bud tenders do.”

Rebecca Claeys was next and introduced herself as the policy director of Wisconsin NORML and a registered nurse.

Claeys said, “I’m here to speak about the patient advocacy aspect of this issue. One of my duties as a registered nurse is to advocate for patients. Another duty is to make sure that when decisions are made, they are made based on the best factual information available.”

Claeys had a handout that talked about the medical benefits of cannabis use.

Claeys finished up by saying, “Not everybody is going to respond to the same cannabinoids the same way. By limiting the access of the cannabis plant that people have access to, you are limiting their access to safe and effective treatment. The side-effect profiles of cannabis are significantly less than a lot of the treatments that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

County Board Supervisor Kriss Marion spoke next. Marion said, “My concern with this is economic. Farm and tourist economics are very important to me.”

Marion then read a letter from one of her constituents – “‘This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as my sister-in-law died of non-small cell lung cancer. She suffered needlessly after coming home from the hospital because all they could offer her was morphine for the pain. For those that don’t know morphine is very constipating and she would scream in pain. Since Arizona had legalized marijuana, her son was able to get her some. After eating a brownie with marijuana in it, she was able to eliminate the pain and sleep. Her appetite also improved. The difference was day and night. Why should people suffer needlessly? The only reason it is deprived is that the big drug company’s need to make a lot of money.’ That is one letter, but that is typical of what I’m hearing from people.”

Marion pointed out that legislation that would ask to legalize medical marijuana will be brought to the floor in the State Assembly this Fall. Marion said, “That’s soon. I would like Lafayette County to be a leader, especially in growing. I too support a referendum.”

Ash Woolson of Argyle had his turn and said, “Overwhelmingly people want medical marijuana and recreational. Illinois is going full recreational in January 2020. We’re missing out on a lot of farming opportunities in Lafayette County. We are an agricultural based economy and if you say we cannot grow these products, these cash crops. We’re eliminating our economic abilities.”

Greg Kinsley of Dane County stated that medical marijuana is real and helps a lot of people. He then read an impressive list of organizations that support medical marijuana.

Kelly Bunge introduced herself as a board certified patient advocate also an ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation. She stated there is a significant need for medical marijuana in Wisconsin.

That was the end of the speakers.

Robinson asked Sheriff Gill if he could show him hemp flower. Gill agreed. Robinson produced a certified CDB canister with a bud inside. The bud looked virtually the same as real marijuana. The committee passed the sample around.

Robinson asked, “I’m wondering how law enforcement can tell the difference between this hemp and THC marijuana?”

Gill said, “There’s no way I can tell the difference right here, right now.”

Robinson said, “I think law enforcement needs detection devices and proper tools to administer the law.”

The meeting moved to the next item on the agenda - an ordinance ‘prohibiting marijuana establishments in Lafayette County’.

Gill pointed out, “The ordinance has been revised on advice from corporate council. The major change is that it does not affect hemp or CBD. It goes at the legal limit of 0.3% THC. So this does not affect the hemp growers in Lafayette County or the sales of CBD oil.”

Gill gave background on where the resolution came from. Gill said, “I was at a Badger Sheriff’s conference. The ordinance and resolution was shared with us. It was passed in Florence County, where they were having difficulty with people coming across the Michigan border, where it is legal. The documents were brought back and I was encouraged to go forward with it. This is being presented by me because of a public safety concern. As far as the economic concern – that is not my thing. My world is public safety. I appreciate everyone’s comments and articles. I think you will agree for every article that I can find that shows a negative, you guys could provide positive.”

Gill quipped, “I’ve read more about pot in the last couple weeks…I don’t dispute that there are tremendous benefits medically by using cannabis. My concern after talking to two Sheriff’s in Colorado, and they’ve had recreation since 2012. They encouraged me to do whatever I could to prevent it from coming here. I don’t need more impaired drivers or those kinds of issues. I have enough problems with alcohol or meth impaired drivers on a daily basis as it is. That is where this came from and that’s why it was brought to this committee.”

County Board and Committee Member Steve Spensley spoke, “This will be a tough decision. Because I believe Big Pharma (pharmacy industry) is killing a lot of my friends. I’ve looked at all the side effects of the medicines I was on, right now I’m down to practically nothing and I feel a lot better. I have friends that have cancer and I know damn well the treatment is killing them. We’re trying to keep our county safe and the perfect place to live. I’m not going to argue with any of you, like we did last time. That was crazy. You (Acheson) were on several medications that were killing you. Jack (Sauer) is on 22 medicines and those are killing him. This needs to be discussed and studied. We know we’re going to have a problem coming across that state line in January. Running the Sheriff’s Department is costing a lot of money and now we’ll have to spend more for testing equipment. I do think we’re rushing into it.”

Other things that were discussed were:

•regarding hemp that is grown locally that has a higher then 0.3% THC content would have to be destroyed, after a remediation. This is governed by the state hemp bill.

•a scenario when a driver gets stopped and has THC in their system. The percentage of THC in their system does not have a direct correlation on how impaired the driver is. This evolved into the lack of testing equipment and even with the testing equipment there is still no correlation to level of impairment.

•the opioid epidemic and how CBD and marijuana can transition people off the opiods.

•Lafayette County becoming an island if medical marijuana becomes legal in Wisconsin and if the ordinance was passed.

•Lafayette County having the perfect soil and latitude for growing hemp and marijuana.

•that dogs can’t tell the difference between hemp flowers and marijuana flowers.

•from the Department of Justice, that there are 86 licensed hemp growing plots in Lafayette County.

Marion asked, “Can we table this ordinance and resolution and form a study group to look at this further?”

Spensley said, “I think we should table this for a month and do some talking on it.”

Hiemann asked, “What are the committees wishes?”

County Board and Committee member John Bartels said, “My feeling is hemp is hemp, CBD oil is CBD oil, but marijuana is a whole different ballgame. I have a relative that takes a couple drops of the CBD oil and it helped her thinking. But as far marijuana, that’s a whole different ballgame, and no one can kid me about that.”

County Board and Committee member Andy Schilling asked, “Can we pass it on to the full County Board for more discussion?”

Heimann answered, “Are you making that a motion – that we pass it on?”

Before Schilling could answer, Bartels made a motion to approve an ordinance ‘prohibiting marijuana establishments in Lafayette County’. Schilling seconded the motion. The vote went 2-2, the motion failed. Spensley and Heimann voted no.

A motion was made to move the ordinance to the full County Board for discussion – the motion carried. (To clarify - the committee did not approve the ordinance)

A motion was made to move the resolution 7-19 ‘In opposition to the legalization of marijuana in the State of Wisconsin’ to the full County Board for discussion. That motion was also approved. (To clarify - the committee did not approve the resolution)

Heimann said, “We don’t want the weight of the whole county on these four committee members. We want the whole county board to consider these items.”

Jail Assessment

In a recent meeting the committee has been discussing additional space needed in the jail. Potter Lawson Architects came and looked at the current Sheriff’s facility. Potter Lawson stated the current structure was designed and would support a second story for the jail. Sizement test would need to be performed.

A formalized document with plans and recommendations to remodel the current Sheriff’s Dept. or a new structure will be ready soon.

More people will be needed either way.

In other business:

•Micah Bahr asked that a portion of Truman Road edge be fixed. Gill said he would talk to Kendall Township about the problem.

•Approved an additional (replacement) patrol position at a cost of $64,176 - $82,089, benefits included. This will need to go to human resources/finance and County Board.

•Approved adding Casey’s General Store and subtracted Benton Feed Service from the pre-approved vendor list.

•Approved April bills in the amount of $14,715.