RACINE, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democratic congressional candidate Amar Kaleka used medical marijuana in California on his doctor's advice after his father was killed by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, he told The Associated Press on Friday.
Kaleka is mounting a longshot bid to unseat former Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in the 2014 congressional election. Kaleka grew up in Milwaukee and lived in California for five years before returning to Wisconsin after the 2012 rampage.
Kaleka and his family sought therapy for their grief after the shooting, in which six people were shot by a white supremacist, who later died in a shootout with police.
A therapist in California, where medical marijuana is legal, recommended Kaleka use the drug because it's natural and less addictive than other pharmaceutical drugs. But medicinal marijuana isn't legal in Wisconsin, so Kaleka's mother could only use prescription drugs that he said made her zone out.
"I think it's disappointing that people who might really need it, someone who's gone through a tragedy like that, doesn't have access to that option," Kaleka, 35, said at his Racine headquarters.
Kaleka said he resisted seeking treatment for his grief for about four months. But when he returned to Tarzana, Calif., to prepare to move back to the Milwaukee area, he felt vulnerable without the rest of his Wisconsin support group.
His therapist recommended medical pot. Kaleka was intrigued, and figured he'd heard enough good things about its medical benefits that he'd give it a try. It would be the first time he ingested marijuana since the time he ate a pizza that he'd laced with marijuana as a junior in college, as part of what he said was a spiritual ritual of self-discovery. Kaleka graduated in 2001 from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a dual degree in psychology and philosophy.
Smoking medicinal marijuana left his throat raw and scratchy. He tried a range of medically laced products — brownies, cookies, chips, popcorn — before settling on lollipops, whose dosages were easier to control. He'd have one or two a week, and found they helped him regain his appetite and eliminate suicidal thoughts that had begun popping up.
Kaleka's father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, was among six worshippers killed in August 2012 when white supremacist Wade Michael Page walked into the Sikh temple in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek and opened fire. Five others were injured, including a police officer who was shot in the throat and suffered permanent voice damage. The FBI investigated for months before concluding that Page's motivation may never be known.
Kaleka said that if elected, he'd work to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes at first, and later for recreational use. But Kaleka also said his more immediate concerns would be strengthening gun laws, working for fair pay and fair education and focusing congressional efforts on actual problems rather than on politically manufactured conflicts.
A message left with the Ryan campaign for reaction to Kaleka's comments was not immediately returned Friday.
Rob Zerban, the other Democrat vying with Kaleka for the right to challenge Ryan, said in an email he supports decriminalizing marijuana so people aren't imprisoned for carrying small amounts.
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.