By Shereen Siewert

A bipartisan push is underway to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin, according to a news release from Republican State Sen. Patrick Testin, of Stevens Point.

The medical marijuana issue has been at the forefront of public discussion in Wisconsin for months. Supporters of legalization say doing so would add a significant economic boost to the state’s economy and could potentially cut down on opioid-related deaths. Critics, however, say there is little evidence that marijuana can be a substitute for opioids to treat pain.

A UW-Madison study published this year showed legalization of medical marijuana in Wisconsin could bring a $1.1 billion economic benefit to the state over the first five years. According to the study, which relied on data from other states and Canada that had legalized medical marijuana, the economic benefit would be about $233 million from patients purchasing the drug, which is not eligible for insurance coverage.

The study also showed that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would create an additional $30 million benefit to the economy based on reduced criminal justice costs. Costs associated with legalization — including about $3.5 million for public health education and about $284,000 spent on emergency room visits for children who ingest marijuana —  were included in calculating the $1.1 billion estimate.

The release of the study followed a Marquette Law School Poll from April 10 that found 83 percent of Wisconsinites believe medical marijuana should be legal. The poll also found 59 percent of respondents believe recreational use should be legal.

In a news release issued Friday, Testin said the bill recognizes that people should not have to “engage in a criminal act to access medicine for debilitating conditions.”

“Growing up, my grandfather was one of my heroes,” Testin said. “I watched as cancer robbed him of his strength and vitality. I saw him make the decision to go outside the law to seek treatment with medical marijuana. It restored his appetite, and I believe it added months to his life. Doctors and patients, not government, should decide if cannabis is the right treatment.”

Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) are also sponsoring the bill.

Wisconsin is surrounded by states that have taken steps to legalize marijuana in one form or another. Medical marijuana has been legal in Minnesota since 2014. while recreational marijuana has been legalized in both Michigan and Illinois.