Madison (WQOW) -- Two state lawmakers say it's time to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin.
But if they can't get that accomplished, they at least want state voters to have a say in whether future legislation goes forward.
Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) and Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for people with a doctor's prescription Monday.
Under the bill, those patients would get a state registry card to purchase marijuana at dispensaries set up by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
If that bill were to fail, Rep. Taylor and Sen. Erpenbach have introduced a second piece of legislation as a backup.
It would put a non-binding referendum question on medical marijuana on a statewide ballot for the November 2018 general election to gauge public support for it.
At a news conference with the lawmakers Monday morning, Iraq war veteran Steve Acheson said PTSD and chronic back pain led him to using multiple prescription medications upon returning stateside - all of which left him feeling awful.
Acheson said it was a friend's suggestion to try marijuana for his ailments that got him off all of those pills a few years ago.
"I continued self-medicating. Slowly, I was able to replace every single medication I had been taking, with one natural, safe, and most importantly - effective alternative," said Acheson, who is now a Wisconsin representative for High Ground Veterans Advocacy, a pro-legalization group based in Washington, D.C.
Middleton Doctor John Olive said his son also started a medical marijuana regimen for back pain in one of the 28 states where the drug is legal with a prescription - and quickly saw the benefits.
After doing his own research on medical marijuana, Dr. Olive - an obstetrician/gynecologist - began to realize it would be a great pain reliever for his patients if it were legal in medicinal form.
Dr. Olive then became a patient in constant pain himself, after being diagnosed with cancer. But legally, he could only take opioids for his suffering.
"I thought, there must be easier ways to deal with this - and there are - I just don't have access to them in Wisconsin," said Dr. Olive. "So, I became even more of an advocate at that point."
"They're not criminals and they shouldn't be treated that way," said Sen. Erpenbach. "So that's why this referendum - at least getting it on the ballot - is such an important thing."
The referendum option is there because Democrats recognize the difficulty of getting the legalization bill passed this session.
Erpenbach acknowledged his Republican Senate colleagues have little interest in it.
"You know, if the (Wisconsin) Medical Society comes in here and says - 'we can do this' - I think we'd pay attention," said Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay). "But they haven't done that."
Just last month, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he personally doesn't have a problem with the idea of medical marijuana.
"For me - and I can only speak for myself, I cannot speak for anyone else in our caucus because we haven't done that - but if you get a prescription to use an opiate or you get a prescription to use marijuana, to me - I think that's the same thing. I don't have a problem with that," said Speaker Vos at a January 3 news conference.
"Well Speaker Vos, you should be joining us here in calling for the legalization of medical marijuana," said Rep. Taylor on Monday. "We invite him to join us."
But Speaker Vos's office has yet to put out a statement on the Democratic proposal.
Whether either bill gets a hearing in Assembly or Senate is unclear at this point.