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Marijuana issue remains clouded

News from the past few days is sure to enter into Minnesota legislative debate as some lawmakers push to allow marijuana use by children with seizures and people suffering severe pain.

Perhaps the most discussed topic will be a new study Reuters news agency covered: “Young, casual marijuana smokers experience potentially harmful changes to their brains, with the drug altering regions of the mind related to motivation and emotion, researchers found.”

It had been thought that only heavy pot users suffered long-term problems. But Northwestern University’s Science Newsline indicated the study showed otherwise. “Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week,” study co-author Hans Breiter told Newsline. “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

Supporters of medical marijuana no doubt will say that smoking pot for recreation is different than what they plan. The first difference, of course, is that only a narrow range of the population would be allowed to use medical marijuana. And while work remains before a final bill is written, if that even happens this year, much of the discussion centers on people using marijuana extracts in pills or ground marijuana in water vapor to help patients. Smoking is little discussed.

A marijuana story similar what is happening in Minnesota also is going on in Georgia. Reuters reports that Gov. Nathan Deal “is working on a way to legalize medical marijuana for treatment of children with seizure disorders after a bill to do so died in the Georgia Legislature last month.”

When a Minnesota bill encountered legislative problems, Gov. Mark Dayton suggested that Mayo Clinic study the medical marijuana issue on 200 children with seizures. He said that could help those 200 kids, even before the study was completed. Medical marijuana supporters criticized his idea.

A third marijuana story comes from Colorado, the first state to tax legalized recreational marijuana sales. State officials expect to bring in an estimated $98 million in revenue this year, exceeding the state’s original predictions by 40 percent.

Although supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Minnesota plan a Capitol rally Wednesday, there is no serious discussion among legislators about that. Medical marijuana legislation stalled in the Legislature until Dayton told reporters that lawmakers were “hiding behind their desks” from the issue. That prompted Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, to kick the issue into committee meetings.

The Senate measure awaits a vote, while a House bill sits in a committee.

Dayton says he won’t sign a medical marijuana bill until law enforcement and medical organizations get behind one.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.