WI: Medical Cannabis Advocate Runs For 41st State Assembly Seat

Photo Credit: Jonathan Wiggs

Frank Buress says he’ll gladly talk about legalizing medical cannabis and plenty of other issues that might make many of Wisconsin’s legislators feel uneasy.

“Madison is a partisan mess,” said Buress, a Democrat who lives in the town of Harris in Marquette County. In his bid to represent Wisconsin’s 41st Assembly District, Buress is trying to unseat Republican incumbent Joan Ballweg of Markesan in the Nov. 6 election.

“If the Democrats support or author something, the Republicans don’t vote for it, and vice versa,” said Buress, whose campaign slogan is “Democrat by party, independent by nature.”

“Part of my goal,” he continued, “is to help reverse that partisan mess because it does not advance the cause of the citizen of this state.”

Wisconsin’s 41st Assembly District covers most of Marquette, Adams and Green Lake counties, as well as the communities of Ripon, Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells. Buress, a U.S. Army veteran, is commander of the Westfield American Legion Post. He serves on the board of Marquette County’s Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth, a prevention coalition affiliated with the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth. He also serves on the Wisconsin State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Prevention Committee and is the state chair of Safe Access Wisconsin, which advocates for access to medical cannabis upon the recommendation of a physician.

Buress said he believes medical cannabis is “the most effective way of combating the opioid epidemic.” A study published in the American Journal of Public Health showed the states where medical cannabis was legalized experienced a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths, Buress said.

“We have veterans in this state who suffer from (post-traumatic stress disorder), traumatic brain injury and chronic pain. They bring their wounds home with them,” Buress said. “In 31 other states, veterans have access to medical cannabis to deal with their issues. This state does not.”

Regarding those states where it is not yet legal, Buress puts much of the blame on three industries that influence national policy: Private prisons, pharmaceuticals and alcohol. Alcohol sales, for example, dropped 15 percent soon after medical cannabis was legalized in certain states, Buress said, referring to a recent study from researchers at University of Connecticut and Georgia State University.

“All the opponents can say, really, is that it’s a gateway drug, but more than likely, it’s an exit drug,” Buress said. “It’s being used in rehabilitation facilities for people with opioid-use disorder.”

Other issues important to Buress include the lack of broadband in rural communities, and the negative impact this has in attracting businesses there; protection of the state’s water resources; and better funding for public education.

Buress said the state spends about 10 percent less money on public education than it did in 2008.

“But if you read the press releases from legislators over the past year, you’d probably think we’d just broken a record” for such spending, he said.

“You can’t cut $1.6 billion from the public education budget and then reinstate $630 million and expect to make improvements,” Buress said, noting poor funding has resulted in teacher shortages and has forced many public school districts to seek operational referendums.

Buress said he is concerned about practices such as the spreading of animal and human waste on water-permeable lands, which he said causes illnesses like blue baby syndrome.

“We have rural counties in this state where pregnant women are told not to drink their water. We sit on the Great Lakes and yet we have those kinds of water problems? It’s absolutely atrocious. We have places where 30 percent or more of the wells are not suitable for drinking water,” he said.

Buress opposes Foxconn’s plans to use water from Lake Michigan.

“We’re going to allow them to pull 7 million gallons of water a day and return 5 million of it, and who knows in what condition? We’re just messing with our water future.”