Legalization on agenda at annual Marijuana Harvest Festival

Dennis Brennan says marijuana has helped treat his Hepatitis C and will speak in favor of legalization at the 44th Marijuana Harvest Festival on Sunday (Courtesy photo)Dennis Brennan says marijuana has helped treat his Hepatitis C and will speak in favor of legalization at the 44th Marijuana Harvest Festival on Sunday (Courtesy photo)Dennis Brennan said he acquired Hepatitis C in 1985.  He was stabbed six times during a mugging in New York City—his residence at the time.  Brennan received a blood transfusion at Metro North Hospital in Harlem, and he is “99.9 percent certain” he acquired the virus that way.  There was no test for Hepatitis C at the time (testing for the HIV virus had only recently been mandated at blood banks).

Discussing his illness is difficult, Brennan said, because people often assume he is, or was a drug addict.  But Brennan said he has never used a syringe to take drugs in his life.

He has used another drug, however, since acquiring Hepatitis C.  Brennan said that smoking marijuana and consuming milk thistle capsules, which supports healthy liver function, is currently his only form of medication.  But Wisconsin is one of 27 states that does not allow doctors to prescribe marijuana under any circumstances. 

Brennan hopes this will change soon, and that is why he will be speaking at the 44th annual Marijuana Harvest Festival this weekend in downtown Madison.  Saturday's events, which will take place at 100 South Pinckney Street, consist mainly of live music.  Some of the scheduled performances are Gary David and the Enthusiasts, Dubble Dubbs, and Patchwork Monkey.  Local vendors will also be present including Knuckleheads Tobacco & Gifts and Pipefitter.  The event is sponsored largely by Wisconsin NORML, an organization dedicated to the legalization of medical and recreational use of cannabis.   

And though the atmosphere may be light on Saturday, organizers plan on protesting Wisconsin's current marijuana laws on Sunday.  Participants will gather at the base of Library Mall at 2:00 p.m. and march to the Capitol to hear a number of speakers, including Brennan.   

Two other speakers include State Representative Melissa Sargent (D- Madison), who is the author of a bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison), who will be pushing for a medical marijuana bill in the next session in January.  It is called the Jackie Rickert Medical Cannabis Act, and it was first introduced by Frank Doyle and Mark Pocan in 2007.  Every two years the bill gets reintroduced, but it has faced strong opposition from Republican legislators.

Craig Trost, chief of staff for Taylor, said that he believes that bipartisan support for JRMCA is inevitable because public opinion is largely in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

“As medical technology advances, and as the public continues to demand it, I think we're going to hit a point where this is going to become law regardless of who's in office.  It's going to become so overwhelmingly popular that politicians are not going to be able to continual ignore their constituents.”

A CBS News poll released earlier this year showed that 86 percent of people believed that doctors should be able to prescribe small amounts of marijuana to patients with serious illnesses.  A September poll from Marquette University Law School found 46 percent of Wisconsinites in favor of legalization (for recreational use), up four points from March.

“Right now the public is ahead of the policy makers, and it's too bad,” Trost said.  “This is such an important issue; there are a lot of seriously ill patients who rely on cannabis, and none of them should go to jail because they're using medicine.”

Still, opposition remains firm.  And because Wisconsin does not have a referendum process, gaining bipartisan support is imperative to the bill's success. 

Brennan believes that if the law were changed, he would be eligible to receive a legal prescription for marijuana.  He said that the current laws are unfair to those who are in serious need of cannabis. 

“It's just a shame that somebody who has brain cancer or hepatitis C, or many other ailments have to hide to get something that helps to heal his pain and tension and makes it easier for him to go on with his life,” Brennan said.

Since taking milk thistle and smoking marijuana, Brennan said he has actually lowered the viral rate of his disease in his body.

“I truly believe with all my heart that marijuana has helped to keep me alive,” Brennan said.