Dayton Leaves Options Open on Medical Marijuana

Updated: 03/13/2014 5:20 PM
Created: 03/13/2014 1:34 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Medical marijuana supporters appealed personally to Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday to give a nudge to a stalled proposal, getting the Democrat's assurance he would keep working toward a compromise on a measure he doesn't yet support.

Their private meeting with him occurred soon after Dayton told reporters during a conference call that he was pessimistic a deal could be forged this session.

In the call, Dayton opened up about a personal tug of war between giving comfort to those in pain and his constitutional oath to watch out for broader public safety concerns. A bill legalizing medical marijuana stalled this week in the Legislature, and Dayton has said he won't sign legislation police oppose.

"Nobody wants to be in a position of causing anybody undue suffering or standing in the way of anybody's suffering being relieved," Dayton said. "But you're talking about making law and public policy for 5.3 million people. You have to weigh in the balance what the experts say are the gains for how many people and what they say are the likely losses for how many people."

Dayton, who is recovering from a February hip surgery, invited 11 medical marijuana supporters into the Governor's Residence to make their case. Between 50 and 75 of them had gathered outside the gates to deliver an oversized greeting card urging him to "stop bowing to law enforcement." They emerged optimistic he would come around to support a proposal.

"This is about taking law enforcement's veto pen away," said Heather Azzi, the Minnesotans for Compassionate Care political director, after the conversation among her, Dayton, medical-marijuana patients and other activists. "The governor offered us a new negotiating partner today."

Patrick McClellan, 47, who is using marijuana illegally to ease chronic pain, said Dayton told the group that members would have the opportunity to meet with state Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger and the governor's chief of staff to explore options.

"I'm really optimistic that we can make significant progress and we can pass this bill," said McClellan, a Burnsville resident who has multiple sclerosis and other ailments.

In a statement after the meeting, Dayton said members of his staff would continue to work with the interested parties to search for a compromise.

It capped a flurry of developments on the issue. Dayton aired his concerns during the conference call about government's ability to oversee distribution and about whether there has been adequate research to determine what doses are effective or dangerous. A deal on other forms of drug delivery remains elusive, largely due to continuing opposition from law enforcement.

Jessica Hauser's 2-year-old son, Wyatt, is afflicted with intractable epilepsy. She is looking for new avenue to help him and said after talking to Dayton that her "heart is full of hope" that the new negotiations will succeed.

"Wyatt has tried 10 medications and all of them have failed," Hauser, 36, of Woodbury said. Those medications include steroids and valium.

In his lengthy call with reporters, Dayton scrambled to clarify a remark that at first appeared to advocate people who want marijuana for medical reasons take their chances and buy it on the street.

"The fact is you can go out in any city in Minnesota, I'm told, and purchase marijuana. And if you possess less than an ounce of it, an ounce-and-a-half of it, it's a petty misdemeanor. It's a traffic ticket," Dayton said.

When pressed on that comment, Dayton said drug dealers should be fully prosecuted and that people buying marijuana take on risks of their own.

"I'm saying the law is the law. A petty misdemeanor for less than an ounce-and-a-half, then that's the way the law reads and that's what it should be. If you're transporting large amounts of marijuana or any other illegal substance in this country then you should be apprehended and prosecuted," he said.

Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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