SUGAR CREEK — The debate over medical marijuana has reached a Walworth County health-care facility where an employee has been accused of providing marijuana to a resident suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Annmarie Schackmuth, 48, of Twin Lakes, could be sent to prison if she is convicted of supplying the smokable marijuana to a resident of the Just Like Home assisted-living facility, where she worked.
Schackmuth, who has no previous criminal record, does not dispute that she provided marijuana to the multiple sclerosis patient. She strongly disagrees that anyone should be charged with a crime for helping a sick person feel better.
“It makes me mad,” she said. “All I try to do is help people.”
The resident, Neil Ahler, 44, has been battling multiple sclerosis for more than 10 years. He smokes marijuana, he said, because it relieves his pain, reduces his stress and helps him sleep.
Ahler said it saddened him to hear that Schackmuth was being prosecuted for providing him with a small amount of marijuana for medical purposes.
“I think it’s kind of crappy,” he said. “She was trying to help me out.”
Schackmuth was arrested Dec. 15 and charged with delivery of marijuana — a felony that carries a maximum possible prison term of three years and six months in Wisconsin.
She said she also was terminated from her job at Just Like Home, where she had worked for four years.
A state legislator who has pushed to legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin said the Walworth County case illustrates why Wisconsin should join other states that have allowed marijuana into the health-care arena.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said people like Schackmuth are being “turned into criminals” for trying to ease the suffering of patients with multiple sclerosis and other painful illnesses.
Taylor said 28 other states have legalized medical marijuana — including Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota — because it is proven to relieve the symptoms of certain medical conditions.
“We’re so out-of-step in this state,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
As a state-licensed worker for community-based residential facilities, Schackmuth has spent 15 years in health care, including the past four years at Just Like Home. The facility at W5140 County Road A is licensed for 24 residents who receive meals, housekeeping, bathing and other assistance.
David Deihs, owner of Just Like Home, said there are currently two residents with multiple sclerosis. Deihs would not discuss Schackmuth’s arrest, and he would not express an opinion on legalizing medical marijuana.
“You’ve got to follow the law,” he said. “The law is the law.”
According to a criminal complaint, an employee at Just Like Home reported smelling marijuana in Ahler’s room on Dec. 15. When Ahler said the marijuana had come from Schackmuth, officials called police.
Police then stopped Schackmuth’s car in traffic and arrested her. She also was charged with possession of painkillers without a prescription, a misdemeanor that could result in a six-month prison term if she is convicted.
Free on bond, Schachmuth is due back in court Jan. 8 for a preliminary hearing.
Schackmuth said she fears that she could lose her state license and have her career jeopardized by the incident. She said she regrets being honest with police and freely admitting that she gave Ahler marijuana to help with his multiple sclerosis.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I brought him a little pot,’” she said. “Did I think they were going to slap me in handcuffs? No.”
Saying she does not smoke marijuana herself, she said she would never get it for someone unless it was a patient needing it for medical purposes.
Ahler, a former construction worker from Burlington, now uses a wheelchair. He has lived at Just Like Home for one and a half years. He has researched the medical marijuana issue, and he is frustrated to be living in Wisconsin, surrounded by states where it is legal.
After Schackmuth’s arrest, staff at the assisted-living facility came around and confiscated his remaining marijuana, Ahler said. Without smoking, his pain and other symptoms are more intense.
“Everything’s kind of difficult, because I’m not relaxed,” he said. “When I do smoke, then I’m fine.”