Ben Kollock, senior urban forestry and forest recreation major, was sitting in his environmental ethics class when he first felt a swollen lymph node in February 2014.
What he thought would just be the common cold ended up being much worse. After a visit to the doctor, Kollock discovered he had leukemia, a cancer that attacks bone marrow and the lymphatic system.
Doctors detected the cancer early, but Kollock had to stop school and work to begin chemotherapy in Marshfield.
Kollock was isolated as the doctors worked to rebuild his immune system, causing nausea and anxiety that no medication could treat. Doctors said they would prescribe him medical marijuana if they could, but for legal reasons they could not.
Many people in chemotherapy mentioned to Kollock that if medical marijuana was available to them, it would help them drink water and eat simple foods again.
“The second that I learned that, I just felt like there’s such an injustice that’s going on that no one is really doing anything about,” Kollock said.
Once back to health, Kollock researched the politics and science of marijuana.
He began at the local level and communicated with Stevens Point City Council members to request reducing the fine of marijuana possession from $300 to $100. The council voted 7-4 to reduce the fine and lower the severity to the equivalence of a parking ticket.
Kollock continued to investigate that a second offense is an automatic felony, up to six months in jail and possible $10,000 fine.
“The punishment should fit the crime. It does not right now and that is something that needs to be fixed,” Kollock said. “Simple marijuana possession is not a severe crime in any way, shape or form.”
Although still in the process of lowering the punishment for a second offense in Stevens Point, Kollock does not plan to stop advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana.
He wants to eventually lower the first offense fine to $20 and is interested in what the structure looks like for the penalties of a first offense to infinity number of offenses.
Brett Nuernberg, fifth year communication major, said that the only negative effect of decriminalizing marijuana he recognizes is that it can dull someone out if they were trying to get school work or intensive work done.
Nuernberg also mentioned how his former stepmom tried to get medical marijuana to treat full body arthritis.
“She said the times that she has consumed marijuana it really helped her relieve stress,” Nuernberg said. “So, I mean, from personal experience and informed stories from others, I definitely think the benefits outweigh the consequences tremendously.”
Marijuana involves varying chemical components. Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, results in relaxation, reduced pain and increased appetite as it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system and immune system. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a relaxant that primarily helps with epilepsy, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Arguments against lowering the fine for marijuana possession include concern that marijuana could be a gateway to other illegal activity.
Regardless, it is possible to separate the chemicals in marijuana to address specific needs of users and many states are making changes regarding marijuana.
In the recent election, voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada approved recreational marijuana initiatives while voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved medical marijuana initiatives.
Though Kollock confirms that there are many misconceptions and negative images around marijuana, change is happening.
He explains that the plant itself is not addictive, but the mental connection could be. Kollock looks forward to informing people about the truth regarding marijuana.
Kollock said, “What makes progress happen is you educate people.”