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Medical Marijuana Debate in Minn.

Posted at: 05/02/2013 5:42 PM
Updated at: 05/03/2013 9:21 AM

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow people with serious illnesses to access and use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it.

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who is the chief author of Minnesota House of Representatives’ version of the bill, said a number of constituents suffering from serious illnesses contacted her about medical marijuana’s capacity to improve their quality of life and provide relief from symptoms like extreme pain and nausea.

“This is a matter of providing compassionate care for seriously ill Minnesotans who suffer from medical conditions like cancer and multiple sclerosis,” said Rep. Melin. “My bill allows Minnesotans with qualifying medical conditions to obtain small amounts of marijuana prescribed by their doctor. It has strong support from both sides of the aisle."

Joni Whiting, a resident of Jordan, addressed the media at a press conference announcing the legislation. Her late daughter, Stephanie, used medical marijuana to relieve the extreme pain and nausea associated with her cancer and chemotherapy treatment. “Medical marijuana made life bearable for my daughter in her final few months,” said Whiting. “She would have tried using medical marijuana immediately after her doctor recommended it, but we feared the legal consequences of doing so. She suffered for months before we decided it was worth the risk. The bill introduced today will prevent patients and families from being put in such a terrible situation.”

When asked about law enforcement’s historical opposition to the policy, Rep. Melin reminded people at the event that doctors should be the ones making decisions about medical treatment, not law enforcement. “I hold law enforcement in high regard,” said Rep. Melin. “I want to make sure we’re reaching out to people like them so we can address legitimate concerns, but ultimately, these kinds of decisions should be in the hands of patients and their physicians. I want to make sure people know that this bill would be one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country.”

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow patients with qualifying medical conditions to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. Similar legislation has been introduced in 14 states this year, and it is expected in two additional states.

Both chambers of the Minnesota legislature passed a medical marijuana bill in 2009, only to have it vetoed by then-Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Melin’s bill provides that Minnesota would create and oversee dispensaries that would grow and provide marijuana to qualified patients, who would receive state-issued ID cards.

Just as government regulates and inspects pharmacies that store and dispense narcotics, these state dispensaries would be regulated and inspected as they grow and dispense medical marijuana.

A growing number of advocacy organizations, professional associations, and religious institutions support medical marijuana for qualifying patients, including national organizations like the American Public Health Association and the Episcopal Church and state-based organizations like the Minnesota Nurses Association and the Minnesota Senior Federation.

Governor Mark Dayton has said in the past he opposes the legalizing of the drug in any form.