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House leaders offer marijuana compromise

Published 9:47am Friday, May 2, 2014

ST. PAUL — Democratic leaders in the Minnesota House on Thursday proposed a limited clinical trial for medical marijuana, a compromise proposal that they said is unopposed by law enforcement.

Their proposal would allow children and adults suffering from severe illnesses to use medical marijuana, with the option of a state source for the drug if no federal source is available. It specifies that the drug could not be smoked, a key concern of police and prosecutor groups. The drug would be accessible in pill, oil or other extracts as part of clinical trials. If used in leaf form, the proposal says, it could be done only through medically supervised delivery by vaporizer.

Supporters said the proposal builds on one put forth by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this session.

But the idea has split medical-marijuana advocates. Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, said the nonprofit group likely will oppose the measure. That organization works to protect those using marijuana for medical reasons from criminal consequences.

“The option is nothing or nothing,” said Azzi. She said she doubted that doctors would prescribe marijuana due to fears of breaking federal law. “This proposal will accomplish nothing.”

Azzi said she hopes a broader Senate bill, which allows for smoking and wider access to the drug, prevails.

A push to legalize medical marijuana has been blocked this session largely by opposition from law enforcement. Dayton has wanted their approval and came forward with his clinical trial proposal when that didn’t happen. Supporters of medical marijuana fell out with the governor after he offered that proposal.

“It is by no means a perfect approach,” said Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing DFLer who has led the push to legalize medical marijuana. But Melin said it was rooted in “political reality” and aimed at addressing the most imminent needs. She said it would still result in “real help for families.”

Angela Weaver, 32, a Hibbing woman whose young daughter suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, welcomed the proposal.

“We are so grateful for this compromise bill because Amelia can’t wait any longer,” she said of the daughter who turns eight on Friday. “If we don’t pass this bill we will be moving to Colorado. Amelia can’t suffer anymore.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen said he has spoken with Dayton, whom he said is looking seriously at it.

“It’s a deal that the parents can be supportive of and law enforcement is not opposed to,” Thissen said.

In a written statement, Dayton said he appreciates the efforts to develop a workable bill but needed more time to assess whether this was it. He said he has asked his Department of Health to assess costs and hurdles.


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