Gov. Dayton opted to halt medical marijuana legalization by proposing additional research. Parents of children with epilepsy aren’t taking his decision lightly.
During a news conference on Wednesday, parents of children suffering from epilepsy in Minnesota slammed the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent proposal to table a medical marijuana legalization bill in the state until more research can be done.
HF1818, which would allow people with debilitating diseases, including epilepsy, to have legal access to marijuana has been widely supported by lawmakers and the public, but law enforcement has long opposed the bill and any kind of legalization in general, since it would be a violation of federal law.
Even before his recent proposal, Dayton had been criticized by legalization advocates in the state who argue law enforcement should not be making medical decisions for potentially millions of state residents who suffer from conditions that could be helped by the use of medical marijuana. However, given that it is an election year and Dayton needs the majority support of Minnesotans in order to stay in the governor’s mansion, the governor may have been inspired to propose a piece of legislation that would allocate more than $2 million to research the medicinal effects of the drug on children with epilepsy.
Legalization advocates, including those who personally suffer from, or have children who suffer from epilepsy, rejected Dayton’s proposal, arguing that they don’t have time to wait for research — they need access to their medicine now. They also expressed concern about what would happen to those suffering from other medical conditions that could be helped by medical marijuana.
During a radio interview on Tuesday, Dayton said those who support HF1818 and oppose his bill were potentially harming the “hundreds of kids that are suffering from epilepsy,” and said, “It’s just disappointing that people wouldn’t seize every opportunity to help other people.”
Not surprisingly, many medical marijuana advocates were not enthused about the governor’s comments. They called out Dayton for hiding behind epileptic children instead of explaining to his constituents why he was blocking the legalization legislation.
“We informed Gov. Dayton that we cannot get behind his unworkable proposal when there is a bill on the table that would actually help our children,” said Maria Botker, a Clinton, Minn., woman whose daughter, Greta, suffers from epilepsy. “He responded by taking to the airwaves to accuse us of opposing legislation that would help our children.
“Gov. Dayton has seized every opportunity to prevent the passage of a law that will help my daughter,” Botker said. “Now he has stooped to using my daughter and me as political cover. Blaming parents for holding up legislation that would help their children is truly reprehensible.”
Jessica Hauser, a Woodbury, Minn., woman whose son, Wyatt, suffers from epilepsy, agreed with Botker. “Minnesotans with debilitating medical conditions and their families should not have to take a backseat to politics. It’s time for Gov. Dayton to put special needs ahead of special interests and support effective medical marijuana legislation.”
“I would do anything in my power to help my son, and for Gov. Dayton to suggest otherwise is sickening,” said Angela Garin, a St. Paul, Minn., woman whose son, Paxton, suffers from epilepsy. “I took my child to Oregon to see if medical marijuana could help him, and when I told the governor it could, he told me to go back to Oregon and get some for him. I was appalled to learn that he values his relationship with law enforcement groups more than my child’s health and my safety.”
Botker, Hauser, Garin and Angie Weaver, another Minnesota mom who has a child who suffers from epilepsy, penned a joint opinion piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Tuesday, saying that while they do want to see further research on cannabis-based medications for epileptic patients and medical marijuana in general, “we aren’t in favor of [Dayton’s] proposal because, as written, it would be ineffective for our children and for other suffering patients in Minnesota.
“For most of the patients who need this medicine, time is of the essence. Unfortunately, research that requires involvement at a federal level (as outlined in this proposal) is not likely to happen soon. This is one of the reasons that nearly half of the states in this country have taken the matter into their own hands regarding medical marijuana…
“The way this research proposal is written constitutes an empty promise,” the opinion piece says. “It is heartbreaking that, on top of fighting for our children’s lives, we are being manipulated by our governor, who falsely states that our children will benefit from a proposal that will do nothing to help anyone in Minnesota.”
In response to the Star Tribune piece as well as the press conference held by the medical marijuana advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, the governor’s office released a statement on Wednesday in which Dayton apologized to the “victims of terrible disease or their parents” for saying advocates want to legalize the “modern” medicine in order to “smoke marijuana plants and leaves.”
“I regret that my words were unclear,” Dayton said. “Two weeks ago, I met with some of those parents, as well as some adult sufferers, and was deeply moved by their anguish,” before saying he regretted that a proposal to make a form of medical marijuana available to children and youths was rejected.
“I also regret that I have been wrongly portrayed as the sole barrier between sufferers and their access to medical marijuana,” the governor said, before reiterating that the Minnesota Medical Association, the Minnesota Psychiatric Association and the state Commissioners of Health, Human Services, and Public Safety, among many other public health and public safety officials, have expressed concern about the formation of a medical marijuana program in the state.
Dayton continued on to highlight highly disputed medical concerns that occur from marijuana use, such as increased blood pressure, increased risk for heart attack, disruption to learning and more. “Despite these valid concerns, my administration has worked with stakeholders on all sides of this issue to find a compromise solution that can pass during this legislative session.”
“I urge stakeholders on all sides of this issue to work together on this proposal, agree on a compromise that can pass in the Legislature this session, and provide relief this year to children who will otherwise find none if we instead choose to engage in finger-pointing, and a protracted political debate,” he said.