The proposed legislation comes as many reveal they already use the drug to treat various ailments.
Medical marijuana is already legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C. — legislation to legalize medical marijuana was introduced Thursday at Minnesota’s state capitol. Minnesota now joins about nine other states with pending medical marijuana legislation.
Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, a medical marijuana advocacy group behind the bill, said the goal of the bill was to work to remove the threat of arrest and prosecution for medical marijuana patients.
The timing of the legislation in Minnesota follows a plethora of similar legislation that came after voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize recreational marijuana. States that already legalized medical marijuana, like Montana, also have announced plans to expand legalization legislation.
The Minnesota medical marijuana bill was introduced in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), while Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) introduced the bill in the Senate. According to a press release from Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, both bills have the maximum number of sponsors allowed — 35 in the House and five in the Senate.
During a press conference, Melin said the bill was intended to help Minnesota families suffering from illnesses to ease their pain.
“I’ve heard from a number of constituents that this is a matter of compassionate care,” she said, adding that those in the medical field should be the ones to decide whether or not patients can benefit from medical marijuana.
Joni Whiting from Jordan, Minn., knows all too well how medical marijuana can benefit a patient. Her daughter, Stephanie, developed melanoma, a form of skin cancer, during her third pregnancy.
Whiting said that Stephanie tried experimental therapy and had numerous surgeries, but nothing worked.
“They cut her face off inch by inch at a time,” she said, “until there was nothing left.” Stephanie’s doctor pulled Whiting aside and suggested Stephanie try medical marijuana, but Whiting says she didn’t consider it an acceptable option since her home had always been drug-free and the consequences of using an illegal drug like marijuana frightened her.
Stephanie was given Oxycontin and Oxycodone to ease her uncontrollable pain, but it didn’t help. “My daughter was in so much pain that the legal dosage of the medications were maxed out,” she said.
Whiting’s other adult children took Stephanie out of Whiting’s care for three days and gave her marijuana. When Stephanie returned, Whiting said she looked better than she had seen her in months, and said the marijuana also seemed to enhance the benefits of her pain medication.
Stephanie started smoking marijuana 89 days before she died in 2000. During that time she was able to eat three meals a day — a large feat in itself since she didn’t have any teeth as a result of the chemotherapy treatments. The night before she died, Whiting said Stephanie was able to eat half of a mushroom omelet, thanks to the marijuana.
“I would rather have spent the rest of my life in prison than deny her the medicine she needed to help her live for 89 more days,” she said.
Quality of life
Stories like Stephanie’s are why Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) say legalization of medical marijuana is not a partisan issue, saying, “It’s a matter of quality-of-life in your final days.”
Marty Super agrees. He lost his wife two-and-a-half years ago to brain cancer. Super’s wife became a medical marijuana patient in the last six weeks of her life. “Anyone who denies dying people something that will help them with their quality-of-life has no empathy,” he said, adding that just because a few people may get high is no reason to deny this type of legislation.
Minnesota’s medical marijuana law would be one of the most restrictive in the nation, and was specifically described by Melin as not similar to legislation in California.
The Minnesota Commissioner of Health would determine how many dispensaries would be licensed and regulated. There’s a minimum requirement that each county have at least one, with Hennepin County — where Minneapolis is located — having at least three dispensaries, and St. Paul’s Ramsey County with at least two.
Early estimates show that a few thousand people statewide would be eligible for enrollment in the medical marijuana program, but they would have to get a prescription from their doctor first. Qualifying conditions include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tourette’s, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and conditions causing severe, debilitating pain, severe nausea, wasting syndrome, seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
Despite medical marijuana receiving support from 65 percent of Minnesotans, according to a March 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, Gov. Mark Dayton says he will veto any marijuana legislation that is not supported by law enforcement, which is why Hackbarth made sure to note that if law enforcement has any issues with the bill, they should come forward.
Whiting said she knows what she’d say if she had a chance to talk to Gov. Dayton. “It’s his responsibility to lead and it’s law enforcement’s job to do what he says,” she said. “I saw with my own eyes that for medical purposes, marijuana works … At this point nothing can be done for me and nothing can be done for my daughter, but there is something that can be done for other families in Minnesota.”
If the law passes and is signed by Gov. Dayton, the Health Department will have a few months to establish rules and open a competitive bidding process to open dispensaries. But many Minnesotans can’t wait for the law to be passed before using marijuana for the medical benefits.
Patrick McClellan has mitochondrial disease, which is a form of muscular dystrophy. Though he’s had this condition since birth, he says it’s become extremely debilitating in the last four to five years.
“I take 26 pills a day,” he said, but still has severe muscle spasm attacks. About two years ago, McClellan was trapped between a wall and his bed for hours due to an attack. He says that small amounts of cannabis relieve his muscle spasm immediately, 100 percent of the time.
Jesse, who didn’t want to give his last name for legal reasons, said his 66-year-old father is a medical marijuana patient as well. A recovering drug addict, Jesse says it would be dangerous for his father to take legal pain medication that are known to be addicting, such as oxycontin or vicodin.