Minnesota Senate OKs medical marijuana
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans suffering conditions they feel only marijuana can help cheered Tuesday as senators overwhelmingly approved using extracts from the plant for medical uses.
Meanwhile, state representatives prepared to debate the issue as early as Friday.
"This is restricted only to medical purposes only under very, very tight conditions," said Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, who sponsored the Senate bill.
Dibble said his bill would help thousands of Minnesotans with "tremendous pain, tremendous discomfort" due to illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, glaucoma and seizures.
Opponents said they feared what may happen if medical marijuana is allowed.
"We all know this is a push for recreational marijuana in the state of Minnesota," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
The Senate passed Dibble's medical marijuana bill 48-18 after four hours and 20 minutes of debate in an effort to make Minnesota the 22nd state to allow medical marijuana. Also Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved on a split voice vote a bill that is less permissive than the Senate bill.
Parents of children with seizures they feel can be aided by marijuana attended the committee meeting and the Senate debate, holding up pictures of the afflicted youths. The children themselves attended many committee meetings during the legislative process, sometimes suffering seizures during testimony about the bill.
House author Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said her bill could be up for a full House vote Friday.
While provisions in the two bills differ, neither would allow smoking marijuana. Gov. Mark Dayton has said that is a step in the right direction, but that he will not sign a medical marijuana bill until law enforcement and medical officials get behind it.
Many Republican senators reinforced Dayton's comments that medical leaders have yet to endorse medical marijuana.
The strong Senate vote was big enough to overturn any Dayton veto. The bill has had a harder time in House committees.
State officials estimate that more than 5,000 Minnesotans would buy marijuana each month.
Under both bills, patients would be required to pay to join the medical marijuana registry and for the marijuana. Health insurance would not pay for the medication.
Dibble's bill would establish up to 55 organizations around the state to dispense marijuana products, which could be used in a variety of ways other than smoking. Melin's bill allows marijuana to be taken as pills or liquid or be vaporized in a water mist or a variety of other forms.
Melin's bill changed Tuesday, and there were indications the full House will amend it more. While the Dibble bill went through a number of committees, the Melin bill stalled until House leaders led a parliamentary maneuver that allowed it to skip several committees that otherwise would have considered the bill.
Melin's bill was amended to allow just one organization to grow and sell marijuana, which she said likely would mean it would be available at one location in the state. She said police could accept that, but they fear access at many locations could make it more difficult to supervise.
The Ways and Means Committee altered the Melin bill after doctors said they could not take part in a clinical test that she had proposed. The earlier language would have required a test with some people getting placebo pills and others receiving marijuana extract. The new bill would provide the marijuana medicine to anyone a doctor says it would help.
The Melin bill requires reports about medical marijuana to lawmakers in coming years.
"This has been a tremendous balancing act between law enforcement concerns and patient access," Melin said.
In the Senate, former longtime Douglas County sheriff Ingebrigtsen delivered a nearly hourlong speech, centered on concerns from law enforcement officers.
While Ingebrigtsen said that no one wants to see children with seizures suffer, "we are talking about a very, very small portion of people" who could be helped by marijuana.
If the Melin bill passes in the House, negotiators likely will need to work out differences between the two bills. Legislators must go home for the year by May 19.