Minnesota: Lawmakers Look At Medical Marijuana Bill For 2014
By Steve Elliott
Minnesota could legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes next year, if a bipartisan group of lawmakers gets their way. They plan to introduce a bill in 2014 that would allow doctors to authorize cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions.
Medical marijuana could bring much-needed relief to some patients, according to state Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), the bill's chief sponsor in the House, reports Tim Pugmire of Minnesota Public Radio. There is also a Senate version of the bill.
"The medical marijuana conversation really is centered around compassionate care and allowing for patients to be prescribed medication from their physician that will help them," Melin said.
Minnesota's Independence Party is going farther than that -- they say marijuana should be legalized overall. Delegates decided earlier this year to add a new plank to their party platform which calls for the legalization, taxation and regulation of cannabis.
"We're penalizing people for what is not a crime for stronger drugs, which could be alcohol or other things that can be abused," said Mark Jenkins, state chairman for the Independence Party. "And it's an opportunity to put more and better control on it. Also, a revenue opportunity as well, so there are a lot of different constituencies that like it for a lot of reasons.
Adding Minnesota to the list of medical marijuana states will take a lot of work, particularly because Gov. Mark Dayton does not support it, according to Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. "What's really holding us back in Minnesota is law enforcement and the governor," Azzi said.
"The governor's most recent position back in December was that he's not going to sign anything that law enforcement is objecting to," Azzi said. "So, we're working with law enforcement right now. They're calling us. They're willing to talk about this, and we're going to find a solution."
Kurtis Hanna of Minnesota NORML said his organization's agenda goes beyond medical marijuana. "Our organization specifdically is in favor of full legalization," Hanna said.
"However, we aren't against medical marijuana," he said. "We definitely would like to see it passed. However, we don't see it as the solution to the problem, the full solution."
Rep. Melin, the bill's sponsor, said she doesn't support full legalization, only for medicinal purposes. She said the issues are separate, and she wants them to stay that way.
"The conversation about the full legalization of marijuana really distracts from the message of the importance of medical marijuana," Melin said.
Unsurprisingly, statewide law enforcement groups, such as the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, oppose the medical marijuana bill. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom claimed cannabis is a dangerous drug that shouldn't be legalized.
"You know, marijuana is the gateway drug to the use of a lot of other chemicals," Backstrom claimed, evidently unaware of research which disproves that contention. "It is the cash crop that drives the illegal drug trade in our country and in our state.
"Legalizing it is just going to just increase its use, and we think cause a lot of problems," Backstrom inarticulately sputtered. He said county attorneys will "strongly oppose" the bill.
But one of the bill's co-sponsors said the time is right for medical marijuana. "The people that know about this legislation know that it's very restrictive," said Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar). "It's probably the most regulated bill in the country as far as medical marijuana goes.
"I think people are ready for it to happen," Rep. Hackbarth said.
(Graphic: Cannabis Fantastic)