Medical marijuana is deadlocked at the Legislature.
Supporters have offered a series of compromises aimed at softening law enforcement’s opposition to the bill, including an offer to legalize the drug in every form except a smokable joint. But law enforcement has not yielded, and House sponsor Rep. Carly Melin pulled the bill off the calendar this week and now is calling on Gov. Mark Dayton to resolve the impasse.
“We’re still wanting to move forward, but we’re not sure what the path forward is, or if there’s a path forward,” said Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who said every proposal she offered in recent days has been rejected by the state’s major law enforcement associations.
Opponents say the changes did not alter their fundamental concern: That legalizing cannabis in any form would lead to the drug being used or abused by people looking for a recreational high.
That opposition has not changed even though 20 states have already legalized medical marijuana and legalization bills are under debate in a dozen more states this year.
“We are concerned that medical marijuana will make its way into the hands of Minnesota teens,” said John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, one of several law enforcement groups in the state lining up against legalization.
Dayton has made it clear that he does not want to sign off on a medical marijuana bill that lacks support from law enforcement, but in a statement released Tuesday, he urged both sides to keep working toward a compromise in this session.
Melin has offered to narrow the focus of the bill so that doctors could prescribe cannabis only in the form of a pill, liquid or inhalable vapor. Anyone caught smoking medical marijuana would face penalties.
Restrictive proposal rejected
Banning the smoking would have made Minnesota’s medical marijuana law the most restrictive in the nation, she said.
Melin also offered to strip out provisions that would have allowed patients to grow up to six plants in their own homes. For those concerned that some might claim vague illnesses to obtain the drug, Melin narrowed the bill’s language, changing “severe and debilitating pain” to “intractable pain.”
Said Melin: “We redefined pain, and that was something that was difficult to do. I’ve said all along that that should be an issue for doctors to decide.”
Law enforcement officials, however, have said they want to withhold legalization until there is more in-depth research into the drug’s purported medicinal properties. Kingrey said he believes Melin and other supporters are sincere in their desire to help sick and dying Minnesotans, but the dangers of drugs may still outweigh the potential benefits.
Dayton urges more talks
Kingrey said the gulf between the two sides is probably too wide to bridge during this year’s brief session, which already has less than 10 weeks until adjournment.
“Given the short session and the technical aspects of the bill, I just don’t think there’s time” to reach a consensus, he said.
The governor, in his statement on Tuesday, urged both sides to keep talking.
“The two months remaining in the legislative session provide ample time to negotiate medical marijuana legislation which incorporates the legitimate concerns of not only law enforcement officers, but also many medical, mental health and other experts,” Dayton said in a statement Tuesday.
Law enforcement had been scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s House Government Operations Committee hearing, but Melin asked that the hearing be postponed, and she appealed to the governor for mediation.
In many of the states that have legalized medical marijuana, law enforcement raised similar objections, but the issue was settled as a ballot question rather than a legislative action. Melin has opposed the idea of putting medical marijuana on the ballot, rather than asking lawmakers to take a stand on the issue.
“We were sent here by the voters to make a difference,” she said, adding that pushing the issue off onto a constitutional referendum would seem like an abdication of duty.
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049