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JOHN HART, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL 

Bunny Balk of Columbus said she smokes marijuana to relieve pain from fibromyalgia and prevent symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Before she started using cannabis, she was addicted to opioids prescribed by doctors, she said. Wisconsin might join 34 states in approving medical marijuana, though many lawmakers remain opposed.


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As Wisconsin eyes medical marijuana, doctor views, research findings mixed

Greg Kinsley of Madison says marijuana reduces gut pain and inflammation from Crohn’s disease.

If he stops using the psychoactive plant, his digestion “doesn’t work right,” said Kinsley, 55, an electronics engineering technician.

Bunny Balk of Columbus says marijuana prevents pain from fibromyalgia and controls anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Before she started smoking marijuana or cannabis, she was addicted to opioids prescribed by doctors, she said.

Marijuana “lets me continue my life without being in bed and looking for that next pill,” said Balk, 60, a grandmother of six and former real-estate broker.

Wisconsin, which has not joined 34 states in approving medical marijuana, might be inching closer to making the move. New Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed it, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature is working on a bill.

But while Assembly Leader Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has said he’s open to the idea, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has said he and most Senate Republicans are opposed.

Doctors, too, are divided on whether the state should authorize marijuana for therapeutic uses, as neighboring Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota have done.

Dr. Michael Miller, a recent Wisconsin Medical Society officer and past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, said marijuana can be addictive, isn’t better than approved drugs and is unpredictable because purity and potency varies.

Proponents are pushing legislatures to circumvent the Food and Drug Administration drug approval process for medical marijuana because they want to allow pot for any use, said Miller, a UW-Madison clinical instructor and psychiatrist with the Rock County Drug Court.

“The therapeutic use is, I think, a subterfuge,” he said. “It’s a transitional step toward legalization.”

“Not for everyone”

Dr. Angela Janis, director of psychiatric services at UW-Madison’s University Health Services, cautions against marijuana use in childhood and adolescence, when it can affect long-term cognition and mental health.

But she said research has found considerable benefit in adults for pain, nausea and muscle spasms, and some studies suggest help for sleep disorders and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

“There’s benefit, but it’s not for everything, and it’s not for everyone,” said Janis, chief medical officer of LeafLine Labs, one of two companies permitted to sell cannabis products for medical use in Minnesota.

Dr. Zorba Paster, who works at SSM Health in Oregon, said he supports medical marijuana. He brought attention five years ago to a little-used state law that already allows residents to possess marijuana with the “valid prescription or order of, a practitioner.”

Paster wrote a letter saying Kinsley, one of his patients, could use marijuana for his bowel symptoms. When Baraboo police officers confiscated a small amount of pot from Kinsley’s car in 2014, Kinsley showed them the letter, which led them to forgo charges.

Paster said that after the incident he turned down numerous requests for such letters from people who weren’t his regular patients. He writes a weekly column for the Wisconsin State Journal and regularly appears on broadcast media.

“I think medical marijuana should be legalized because right now opioids kill people and marijuana does not,” he said.

Report: benefits, risks

A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said cannabis can treat chronic pain, nausea from chemotherapy and muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis.

“But it’s not clear that it’s better than other options that are out there,” Dr. Robert Wallace, a University of Iowa health scientist who worked on the national report, said at a forum at the state Capitol last month.

The national report focused mostly on potential harms, saying cannabis use before driving increases the risk of traffic crashes. Cannabis impairs learning, memory and attention immediately after use, and likely increases the risk of psychosis, the report said.

Smoking cannabis can make respiratory problems worse, but it doesn’t appear to increase the risk of lung, head and neck cancers, as smoking tobacco does, the report said.

Some studies suggest legalized medical marijuana decreases opioid use and overdose deaths, but there’s not enough evidence to confirm the finding, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Between 9 percent and 30 percent of marijuana users may develop a use disorder, including addiction, the institute said. The majority of marijuana users don’t go on to use harder drugs.

Research on marijuana is limited because the federal government considers it a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of drug categories, and the official supply available for studies is hard to obtain.

Wisconsin allows residents to use CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, from any source if they have a doctor’s note — a requirement Evers wants to eliminate. No doctor’s note is required to possess CBD from hemp produced through a state program.

A CBD-based drug, Epidiolex, was approved by the FDA last year for two forms of severe childhood epilepsy. Two drugs containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, are approved for nausea from chemotherapy and weight loss caused by AIDS.

Some GOP support

Voters appear to want Wisconsin to approve medical marijuana and also recreational use of cannabis. In November, in 16 counties and two municipalities, including some that typically support Republicans, voters overwhelmingly approved nonbinding advisory referendums — some to legalize medical marijuana, and others for recreational use.

In a Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin voters in January, 59 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal.

“The face of this debate has shifted dramatically in just the past eight to 10 years,” said Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point.

Testin and state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, a cancer survivor, are working with Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who have previously introduced a medical marijuana bill, on an updated version of the measure.

Testin said his grandfather used marijuana to ease pain and increase his appetite while dying from cancer about 20 years ago. Veterans have told him they’ve turned to cannabis to get off opioids, he said.

“It’s unfortunate that men and women who serve our country have to essentially do criminal activity to get relief,” he said.

Gary Storck, of Madison, has long used cannabis for glaucoma he developed as a child, and says it also helps with pain from arthritis and prostate cancer, which he was diagnosed with last year.

Like Kinsley and Balk, Storck has no trouble getting or using cannabis, despite Wisconsin’s lack of an approved program.

But legalization “would take away the fear factor,” said Storck, 63, who blogs at cannabadger.com.

Evers replaced Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who opposed medical marijuana. Testin has replaced another medical marijuana critic, Leah Vukmir, as chairman of the Senate health committee. That means it’s likely the medical marijuana proposal will get a hearing this legislative session, which hasn’t happened since 2009, Storck said.

“At least it will be talked about,” he said.


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Kidnapper's actions baffling in Jayme Closs case, even to expert on deviant criminal behavior

He was 21, with an unremarkable background, a spotty work history and no criminal record.

BARRON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT 

Jayme

He observed a girl getting on a school bus, stalked her and meticulously planned his crime. He abducted the girl, throwing her in the trunk of his car after brutally murdering her parents. He imprisoned the girl in his home, turning a radio up to drown out any possible sound when family members came to visit.

Jake Patterson’s crimes are hard to wrap one’s mind around.

Even for an expert in deviant criminal behavior.

“To go from a few areas of rejection … to this extreme is very rare,” said Robert Geffner. “Which is why this particular situation doesn’t match most of the others we read about or hear about.”

Although he lives in San Diego, Geffner was like so many transfixed by the story of 13-year-old Jayme Closs’ Jan. 10 escape from Patterson’s home near Gordon after she had been held captive for 88 days.

Patterson pleaded guilty March 27 to the Oct. 15 shooting deaths of James and Denise Closs and the kidnapping of their daughter, Jayme, from the family’s Barron home.

Geffner had more than a casual interest in the case. Geffner is president of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute in San Diego and is an adjunct professor in the California School of Professional Psychology with specialties that include violent offenders, sex offenders and emotional abuse.

In a telephone interview in the days following Patterson’s arrest, Geffner said what was known about Patterson didn’t fit the patterns that typically emerge in criminal deviance.

“First, you don’t have any contact that anybody knows of ahead of time … which is very unusual,” Geffner said. “You have a complete stranger who evidently decides for some unknown reason to attack and then goes to very extreme (measures) … to essentially eliminate any contacts for her. Her family is basically destroyed in front of her.”

Geffner made it clear that he wasn’t conducting a long-distance psychological evaluation. But the behavior was so atypical, Geffner said, it would be difficult for anyone to understand.

What’s known of Patterson’s past also doesn’t fit any patterns, Geffner said.

“At least according to the records that have been publicized, no history of violence,” he said. “Normally, you would see either some type of delinquency or acting out or violence toward animals or some type of what we would call antisocial behavior.”

Mental health professionals have a long way to go when it comes to predicting violent behavior, Geffner said. But the risk factors that are known — someone with a history of violence, someone with serious mental health or psychotic episodes, someone with significant trauma issues, someone who had been exposed to significant violence — don’t seem to apply to what is known about Patterson.

It appears from what is known that Patterson terrorized Jayme to the point that she experienced “learned helplessness” or “learned hopelessness,” Geffner said. He noted that Patterson felt confident enough to have family over for Christmas while keeping Jayme under a bed.

Those circumstances make Jayme’s escape all the more remarkable, Geffner said.

Although the good news of that bold escape after Jayme survived such a horrific crime made her story a national sensation, the underlying role of violence in our society doesn’t get enough consideration, Geffner said.

“We don’t pay enough attention to the violence that occurs in homes and communities on a daily basis around our country,” he said. “We’re getting desensitized to the violence in our society, and to me that’s a very dangerous road to be on.”


BARRON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT 

Jayme


T'xer Zhon Kha, Appleton Post-Crescent 

Jake Patterson appears for a hearing at the Barron County Justice Center on March 27 in Barron. Patterson pleaded guilty to kidnapping 13-year-old Jayme Closs, killing her parents and holding her captive in a remote cabin for three months.


Some outdated malls see success in redevelopment; others struggle

While buying goods online continues to become the norm, there were still plenty of people venturing inside a suburban Milwaukee mall on a recent afternoon. At Brookfield Square, shoppers can still pick up a book at Barnes & Noble or buy a sweater at J.C. Penney.

Like most shopping centers, Brookfield Square has had some setbacks. It lost anchor stores Sears and Boston Store in 2018, along with many other retailers. But the city created a special taxing district to help revive the mall and other businesses are in the works.

“Consumers are starting to look for more entertainment and experience focused retail,” said Stacey Keating, a spokeswoman for Chattanooga, Tennessee-based CBL Properties, which owns Brookfield Square.

By the end of the year, Brookfield Square will open a Marcus Theater movie tavern and the state’s first WhirlyBall game venue.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in downtown Milwaukee, a plan is underway to invest $9 million in city financing to continue mixed-use redevelopment of its long-struggling mall, long known as the Grand Avenue Mall and recently rebranded as The Avenue.

But adding amenities might not be viable in smaller Wisconsin markets where distressed malls are having a harder time coming back to life.

CBL has been reinventing dying malls since 2013. In Franklin, Tennessee, an upscale suburb of Nashville, CBL added a bowling alley and restaurant district at CoolSprings Galleria Mall.

Keating said that over the last five years, sales at that property have increased 30 percent.

While the company is investing in wealthier communities, it has walked away from others, including in Wisconsin. In 2016, CBL turned the Wausau Center Mall back over to its lender after the struggling shopping center lost two of its three anchor stores.

Keating wouldn’t comment specifically on the Wausau Mall. She said malls in smaller markets have an opportunity to be repurposed, but they face more challenges.

Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke said he would love to see the downtown mall turned into a mixed-use development like the ones in Brookfield and Milwaukee that include housing, office space and some retail.

“Let’s face it, it’s an Amazon world today,” Mielke said. “The retail sector is never going to come back like it is.”

Across the state, malls are struggling to varying degrees as iconic anchors such as Sears and Bon-Ton have gone out of business and Macy’s and J.C. Penney continue to lose money.

Garrick Brown, a national retail researcher with Cushman & Wakefield, said urban malls and those located in dense suburban areas will continue to rebound. But malls located in rural communities will continue to struggle. Brown said he believes the best option is to add housing or even medical centers to make them viable.

“It really is how the rest of the world has done malls, mainly because their economies always have been a little bit iffy and you had to hedge your bet,” Brown said. “I think going forward, that’s the safest bet.”

Memorial Mall in Sheboygan was once the city’s shopping hub. But in 2017, the mall was partially demolished and replaced with a Meijer grocery store.

CBL sold the long-struggling Regency Mall in Racine in 2016 to Augusta, Georgia-based Hull Property Group. The company specializes in troubled properties. The city and Hull Property Group have been working on redevelopment plans for the nearly-vacant mall.

In Milwaukee, owners of the downtown mall have added apartments. They’ve begun signing office tenants and are planning on opening a food hall later this year.

But in Wausau, plans to bring a movie theater to the mall fell through in 2017. Mielke said he’s still hopeful it can once again be the hub of the city’s downtown.

“It’s still a special building, but like so many other communities, we’re trying to find a way to repurpose it,” Mielke said. “Right now, it’s a wait and see as far as what the owners in Florida will be doing.”

Shopping malls are just beginning to undergo massive transformations. It’s still unknown if entrainment venues will save these once bustling centers. But owners hope creating a place for the community to gather rather than just a hub of commerce is a start.