This story is an update from the Minnesota state Legislature’s first decisions about voting on a medical marijuana legalization bill earlier this month.
Minnesota is slowly inching closer to legalizing medical marijuana, but whether the progress made in the last few days will be enough to actually result in the creation of a medical program remains largely unknown.
“I follow the medical cannabis bill very closely and from my perspective, the likelihood of it passing is completely up in the air,” said Kurtis Hanna, a self-described concerned citizen and legalization advocate. “I’m a gambling man by nature, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable placing a wager of any amount on whether this bill will pass this session or not.”
On Tuesday the state Senate Committee on State and Local Government approved a bill proposed by Sen. Scott Dibble, (D-Minneapolis), last year, that would create a conservative medical marijuana program in the state similar to medical programs currently in effect in states such as New Mexico and Arizona.
Under Dibble’s bill, only those persons with specific debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma, and severe, debilitating pain would be able to legally possess 2.5 ounces of the substance, and the state Health Commissioner would have “broad authority” in the creation and operation of the program.
After passage on Tuesday, and despite state officials who questioned whether the bill was actually about helping sick Minnesotans or an attempt to eventually legalize marijuana for personal use, Dibble’s bill moved onto the Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee, where testimony continued on Wednesday afternoon.
After Wednesday’s testimony the Senate Committee on Judiciary decided to refer the measure to the Senate Finance Committee, where the measure is expected to receive a hearing and a vote. When that hearing would take place has yet to be announced.
“This week has been a breath of fresh air for seriously ill Minnesotans who would benefit from legal access to medical marijuana,” said Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, in a press release. “We knew this legislation would enjoy broad support once it received the consideration it deserves. The rate at which it is advancing finally reflects its urgency.”
Though the bill appears to have the support it needs to pass the Senate, the House’s version passed the Health and Human Services Policy Committee rather quickly in March, but has since stalled.
Though the House bill’s sponsor Rep. Carly Melin (D-Hibbing) has said there is enough support for a vote, the state legislature has not yet held a vote on the legalization measures proposed by Dibble and Melin.
Part of the hold-up in the state’s passage of medical marijuana legislation has been related to concerns the legalization legislation would have been vetoed by the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who has long said he would only sign off on the legislation if law enforcement approved of the measure.
Aware of the Governor’s resistance or reluctance to cross law enforcement, Melin, Dibble and legalization advocates, met with law enforcement officials while writing the legislation in order to try and find a compromise.
Despite all of the concessions legalization advocates awarded law enforcement such as amendments that would have prohibited home cultivation and the ability to smoke marijuana, law enforcement has continued to block legalization efforts.
“After all of the amendments that have been made, I am simply amazed that law enforcement is still opposed to the bill,” Hanna said.
“I understand the fact that they are nervous about losing federal drug war grants and civil and criminal asset forfeiture money if any type of cannabis law reform moves forward. I also understand their fear of the unknown, since for more than 40 years they have been arresting everyone they come across who possesses cannabis. I just don’t understand how they can ignore the scientific evidence that proves that cannabis can help individuals with their ailments.”
Azzi agrees. “This measure is as safe and responsible as it is fair and compassionate,” she said. “States around the country are successfully regulating and controlling medical marijuana, and Minnesota is perfectly capable of doing the same. We should be the next state to adopt a sensible medical marijuana law, not the last state.”
Since a majority of Minnesotans support medical marijuana legalization, with recent polls indicating about 76 percent of residents support medical marijuana legalization, it has appeared that the governor has had a change of heart in recent weeks as well, with Dayton publicly sharing he would sign legalization legislation if it came across his desk.
With Dayton on board the focus has now turned to convincing law enforcement to support the law, which in turn, prompted four Minnesota state law enforcement officials to publish a joint opinion piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Tuesday, in which they explained why they continue to oppose medical marijuana legalization in the state — except for one bill which was proposed by Dayton himself.
Under Dayton’s proposal, medical marijuana legalization initiatives would have been tabled for the interim and instead the state would have put millions toward a study at the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic to specifically examine how marijuana’s non-psychoactive ingredient, cannabidiol, or CBD, can be used to help children with various forms of epilepsy.
“[W]e brought a proposal to the table to allow CBD, the main component of medical marijuana, to be extracted and delivered much like a regular prescription drug,” the opinion piece says. “This could help children suffering from seizures. However, so far, this proposal has been rejected.”
It’s true, the governor’s proposal was largely rejected. But what the officers failed to include in the piece is why the CBD-only study was rejected, such as the fact that the study wouldn’t help patients gain access to a medicine they need now, and how it would have only examined how CBD affected epileptic children, as there was no inclusion of any other medical condition, examination of how THC could possibly help those with epilepsy, or how adults would be affected.
While the officers did applaud Melin and Dibble’s efforts to help constituents who are suffering, the four say “we simply can’t support their bills as currently written,” explaining that “For us, marijuana is not a harmless substance. In fact, for so many who use it on a regular basis, it is an addictive drug, especially for children and young adults.”
Despite all of the obstacles legalization advocates in Minnesota seem to have faced, it appears the majority of them have shrugged off law enforcement’s last-minute attempts to prevent medical marijuana legalization in the state, and have applauded every victory, no matter how small.
“I stand with patients, the majority of Minnesotans, and the democratic process in support of this bill,” Hanna said. “I do not support this bill because I want it to be a red herring that furthers the cause of fully legalizing cannabis legalization.
“I support the bill in and of itself because I think it is right for Minnesota. The fact that I am in favor of ending cannabis prohibition is a separate issue, which is not currently in front of the Minnesota legislature. When it is in front of the legislature, I will testify in favor of it.”
The first part of this article was originally published on April 9, 2014.
A year after it was first introduced, Minnesota’s state Legislature has yet to vote on a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
As Thomas Gallagher, a Republican candidate for state House district 61B whose platform includes legalizing marijuana, pointed out, the state Legislature’s failure to vote on the bill is especially odd given that it was introduced by a Democratic lawmaker in a state where the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controls the House, Senate and governor’s office, and medical marijuana legalization has received bipartisan support.
As recent television ads have told Minnesotans, part of the reason measure HF 1818, which was introduced by Democratic Rep. Carly Melin, has been stalled for so long without a call for a vote is because the state’s Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton had long threatened to veto any marijuana legalization legislation, including medical legalization, if law enforcement did not support the measure.
Perhaps in order to skirt around Gov. Dayton’s now arguably empty veto threat, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo proposed adding the medical marijuana legalization bill as an amendment to a larger health measure on Tuesday.
Known as HF 2402, this broader health policy legislation would likely make it harder for Gov. Dayton to outright veto the legislation, since it includes items such as modifying provisions relating to children and family services, chemical and mental health services, establishing reporting requirements and grounds for disciplinary action for health professionals, and regulating the sale and use of tobacco-related and electronic delivery devices.
However, some of the problems legalization advocates have raised with the medical marijuana amendment is that it does not award medical marijuana patients the same freedoms as Melin’s bill.
Garofalo’s amendment prohibits smoking marijuana and does not allow patients to cultivate their own medical supplies at home. Anyone caught smoking marijuana would be fined $200.
The Minnesota state Legislature was supposed to vote on the inclusion of the amendment on Wednesday, but on Tuesday afternoon it was announced that the bill had been delayed. The Legislature now won’t take up the bill until after the Passover and Easter break, or in about two weeks.
Heather Azzi, political director for the medical marijuana legalization group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, told MintPress News that legalization advocates have no reason to panic, as pushback in voting on a bill is pretty typical, especially for complicated policy bills such as this one.
Despite some of the concerns with the amendment, Minnesotan Patrick McClellan, an individual who suffers from mitochondrial myopathy — a rare genetic muscular disorder that causes severe, painful spasms — said medical marijuana is the only medicine that helps him.
“I think it shows this is a bipartisan issue,” McClellan told MintPress, before adding that it’s wonderful that a Republican representative attached this amendment to a piece of legislation, since it proves there is bipartisan support.
While she’s still examining the specifics of the proposal and discussing it with patients, Azzi applauded the compassion Republican lawmakers are showing for medical marijuana patients. She also said the inability to grow or smoke marijuana is a compromise that doesn’t affect the functionality of a medical marijuana program.
When asked specifically about the ban on smoking and patients’ inability to cultivate their own marijuana supplies, McClellan said if that is what is needed to get the bill passed, it’s a good thing. He also said he wouldn’t be affected because he uses a vaporizer to ingest his medical marijuana.
Charles, a medical marijuana legalization advocate who spoke to MintPress on condition of anonymity, agreed with McClellan that the amendment does more good than harm.
“At this point, any proposal that we can get approved is a step in the right direction. We gotta be open minded with this,” he said, adding that amendments can always be made to the legalization legislation if it passes.
“The important thing is to get something in place. We can always argue the points we disagree on at a later point,” Charles said.
Though Gallagher noted that not all states that have legalized medical marijuana allow home cultivation, he said there are reports and studies showing that states that don’t have legal home-growing provisions experience a gap between those who can afford the rather expensive medical marijuana and those who can not.
“Sometimes these things are not covered by insurance or government programs,” Gallagher told MintPress. This disproportionately affects low-income people, who are often minorities, which adds a racial inequality component.
Disabled people and the unemployed are also negatively affected by the lack of a home-growing provision, Gallagher said.
Since we already allow people to brew their own beer and wine at home, Gallagher said, “why would we not allow people to grow marijuana at home if they need to?”
If they have the money, they would probably opt to buy the medicine, but Gallagher said that like vegetable gardens, low-income people should be awarded the opportunity to grow their own supply in order to maintain or improve their quality of life.
Azzi recognized that it will be a little more expensive and inconvenient for people in rural areas to obtain their medicine. They will likely have to drive hundreds of miles in order to get their medicine, but she said it’s a compromise.
In addition to the ban on smoking and home cultivation, Azzi said there are several smaller differences between Melin’s bill and the new proposed amendment, but “nothing major.” For example, instead of “marijuana” the term “cannabis” is used in Rep. Garofalo’s amendment.
Despite some legalization advocates, including Gallagher, saying the amendment is not ideal because HF 1818 was already a compromise, as it does not include many diseases and ailments treated by marijuana and recognized as qualifying conditions in other states, Gallagher said the passage of the Garofalo amendment would be symbolically a step in the right direction.
He also said he trusts Azzi’s judgement and inherent decision to support the measure.
Dayton pushes back
Another development in Minnesota’s battle to legalize marijuana came when Gov. Dayton asked the state Legislature on Tuesday to stop blaming him for blocking medical marijuana legalization when they have yet to vote on the measure.
Azzi said she found Dayton’s statements rather surprising. If the governor is demanding a vote happen soon, she added, then it needs to happen soon.
“If he is the one blocking legislation,” Azzi said, then it’s important for Minnesota state Representatives and Senators to be the ones to stand up for patients and let Gov. Dayton be the one to say no to medical marijuana legalization.
Whether the state Legislature will vote on the medical marijuana bill sponsored by Melin or opt to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota through Garofalo’s amendment remains to be seen.
The Minnesota Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing will hold a public hearing and vote on a bill that is the state Senate’s counterpart to Melin’s medical marijuana legalization bill on Thursday. If the measure passes, Gov. Dayton has indicated he would sign it.
However, if the bill doesn’t pass or if Gov. Dayton ends up vetoing the bill, Gallagher said legalization will be an even bigger political issue for Minnesotans this fall.
Legalization is already going to be a big issue this election season, said Gallagher, who would like to see Minnesota follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington state and legalize personal use of the drug.
He also cautioned that if state lawmakers can’t pass a medical marijuana bill when the majority of Minnesotans support it, marijuana legalization will be even more of an issue.