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2014-01-31 / Features

Medical marijuana legislation in Minnesota

By Jean Cole
HTF Editor

Legislation to protect the seriously ill across Minnesota from arrest or prosecution for using medical marijuana with their doctors’ recommendations has been introduced into the 2013-2014 Minnesota Legislative session. This bipartisan effort is led by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL – Hibbing) in the House and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL – Minneapolis) in the Senate. Of the 35 House sponsors, 12 are committee chairs, and two of the five Senate sponsors are committee chairs as well.

This may be the year Minnesota joins 20 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana. Approximately half of those 20 states approved medical marijuana by a vote of the people via constitutional amendment.

The biggest hurdle for advocates of medical marijuana in Minnesota is the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition lobby, which consists of the following organizations: Minnesota County Attorneys Association, Minnesota Sheriffs Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, and the Minnesota State Association of Narcotics Investigators.

Last month, a St. Cloud State University survey found an overwhelming 76 percent of Minnesotans support marijuana when prescribed by a doctor. The SCSU survey, and others that have been conducted in the past year, find Minnesotans divided equally on legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Note: During the 2007-2008 legislative session, Minnesota’s medical marijuana legislation received widespread, bipartisan support, as well as the support of the legislature’s top health experts. The bill passed both the House and Senate, but Governor Pawlenty would not sign it, citing lack of support by the law enforcement lobby.

What the legislation would do:

A medical marijuana law — similar to laws at work in 20 states and Washington, D.C. — would protect people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, and other serious illnesses from being arrested and imprisoned for possessing and using a limited amount of marijuana for medical purposes on the advice of their doctors. The law would license registered, nonprofit organizations to grow medical marijuana and would allow certain patients or their caregivers to cultivate marijuana if a nonprofit organization is not available to provide the medicine. The law would also protect patients’ caregivers from criminal penalties for possessing and delivering medical marijuana for the patients’ use.

Patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, seizure disorders, or certain other illnesses would be able to apply for registry ID cards that would protect them from arrest and prosecution. They would have to provide their doctors’ written recommendations and pay the appropriate application fees.

Under this law, a physician would not be subject to arrest, prosecution, or penalty for providing written recommendations to medical marijuana patients or for otherwise stating that the benefits of a patient’s medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh any health risks.

House and Senate sponsors of the Medical Marijuana Bill

House File 1818 Sponsors
Rep. Carly Melin (DFL – Hibbing)
Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R – Cedar)
Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL – North St. Paul)
Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL – St. Paul)
Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R – Woodbury)
Rep. Thomas Huntley (DFL – Duluth)
Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL – Balsam Township)
Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL – Virginia)
Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL – Esko)
Rep. Tim Faust (DFL – Hinckley)
Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL – Rochester)
Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL – Coon Rapids)

Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL – Brooklyn Center)
Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL – Columbia Heights)
Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL – Maplewood)
Rep. John Benson (DFL – Minnetonka)
Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL – Crystal)
Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL – Golden Valley)
Rep. Steve Simon (DFL – Hopkins)
Rep. Paul Rosenthal (DFL – Edina)
Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL – Richfield)
Rep. Sandra Masin (DFL – Eagan)
Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL – South St. Paul)
Rep. JoAnn Ward (DFL – Woodbury)
Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL – St. Paul Park)
Rep. Will Morgan (DFL – Burnsville)
Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Karen Clark (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Susan Allen (DFL – Minneapolis)
Rep. Rena Moran (DFL – St. Paul)
Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – St. Paul)
Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL – St. Paul)
Rep. Sheldon Johnson (DFL – St. Paul)

Senate File 1641 Sponsors
Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL – Minneapolis)
Sen. Branden Petersen (R – Andover)
Barb Goodwin (DFL – Columbia Heights)
David Tomassoni (DFL – Chisholm)
Kent Eken (DFL – Twin Valley)

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Q. and A. with State Representative Carly Melin

Q: Gov. Dayton has said he will not sign the medical marijuana bill this legislative session if it does not have support of law enforcement. In fact, he made a campaign promise to that effect. The Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition has made it clear they will not endorse the bill. Where does that leave you?

A: We never expected the bill to be passed as written. We expected to use it as a starting point to discuss legislation going forward. Unfortunately, the Law Enforcement Coalition will not discuss specific provisions of the bill with us, and have instead stated that they are opposed to the legalization of medical marijuana for any purpose. In other words, they have a blanket opposition. This makes it very difficult to have a conversation on how to shape the bill.

Q: Why do you believe MN’s law enforcement agencies are so adamantly

opposed to medicinal marijuana?

A: There are many individual members of law enforcement who are supportive of medical marijuana. In fact, one of them is a co-author of the bill, Rep. Dan Schoen, state representative and police office from Cottage Grove, MN. Law enforcement in northeast Minnesota have discussed some flexibility, which is a lot further than we got with the statewide leaders. It is the head honchos and lobbyists down in St. Paul who are the problem. Marijuana being illegal is big business for law enforcement. The forfeiture of property relating to marijuana crimes brings in big revenue to law enforcement agencies. They are worried that legalizing medical marijuana is a step toward the decriminalization of marijuana, which in turn would impact their budgets. I hope that isn’t the basis of their opposition to medical marijuana because there are sick Minnesotans in need of this medicine, but in my experience carrying this legislation they primarily express concerns that this will lead to the recreational use of marijuana.

Q: Many Minnesotans are in desperate need of medicinal marijuana. You have met them and seen their pain. They feel they are not being heard by our governor or our law enforcement agencies. Why not let the people of Minnesota decide? Would you consider a constitutional amendment so the people of Minnesota, and your constituents, can have their say?

A: The stories I’ve heard around the state, including that of the Weavers in Hibbing, have been absolutely heartwrenching. Children with seizure disorders who have zero quality of life, cancer patients essentially starving to death, and MS patients being immobile, it’s just awful. I know the Governor has met with some of these people and I know Governor Dayton to be a compassionate individual. I hope their stories prevail over the irrational fears of the heads of statewide law enforcement agencies, but the Governor has also been consistent that he is basing his decision on the opinion of law enforcement.

I would prefer not to do a Constitutional amendment because we, as legislators, are sent to St. Paul to make tough decisions. We ought to have the courage to stand up and do what’s right, not to live in fear of electoral consequences and pass on the tough decisions to the voters through a ballot initiative.

Q: Why does law enforcement hold sway over health policy, the realm of medical professionals?

I believe that law enforcement should have a seat at the table in discussing this bill, which is why I’ve sat down with them. My frustration has been their lack of flexibility and lack of compromise. We’d be more than willing to make alterations to the bill, but they have to suggest what those alterations should be. Despite my frustration, I continue to meet with and work with law enforcement, and I have found that law enforcement heads in northeastern Minnesota, specifically the St. Louis County Attorney and the Duluth Police Chief, are quite reasonable on the issue. I hope we can bring that attitude to St. Paul this legislative session.

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