Legalization Not Snuffed Out Yet: Senate Panel's Medical Pot Hearing to be Continued

Updated: 04/10/2014 3:25 PM
Created: 04/10/2014 3:23 PM

Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis Democrat, took up the gauntlet Gov. Mark Dayton threw down this week when he dared legislators to vote on the proposal if they felt they could pass it, declining to say if he would veto it.

"They've hidden behind their desks the whole session while I've taken this on," the Democratic governor said Tuesday. Hopes for legalization had stalled in the House last month due to Dayton and medical-marijuana supporters not being able to agree on the proposal's contents.

So, Dibble revived the bill, and a Senate health panel voted Thursday to continue discussing it upon returning from the Legislature's Easter/Passover break. Lawmakers begin their recess Thursday and reconvene April 22.

Dibble's measure would allow licensed medical practitioners to prescribe marijuana to patients with maladies such as cancer, epilepsy and extreme chronic pain. Those patients would receive a card enabling them to buy medicinal marijuana from approved dispensers; they could not grow their own.

Medical-marijuana advocates who testified Thursday shared stories of suffering from maladies that conventional medications couldn't help, such as alleviating pain from muscular dystrophy and Crohn's disease. Others spoke of their hope that medical marijuana would halt their sons' and daughters' nonstop seizures caused by epilepsy.

"I'm both frustrated and encouraged," Holmgren said after the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Housing adjourned. "But, overall, I'd say it's going in the right direction."

Spring Lake Park resident Jonathan Holmgren, 32, said of the bill's uncertain future, "It's been a roller-coaster ride." He told senators he's smoked cannabis for the last four years to treat pain, "deadly inflammation" and nausea caused by Crohn's disease, three other illnesses and a genetic mutation.

The testimony fell into two groups: Those who backed legalizing it now for immediate relief and those who prefer to proceed with caution until research reveals the drug's medical pros and cons.

Even advocate Joni Whiting, 58, of Jordan, Minn., said she understood why some chose discretion over speed.

"They're bringing up issues that have to be addressed so it's safe and legal for everyone," said Whiting, who described watching her daughter's face disappear inch by inch as surgeons removed malignant melanoma, her child's pain and lost appetite relieved by only marijuana.

"I'm interested in using the powerful chemicals in marijuana to help people suffering," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger, a pediatrician and primary caregiver to a spouse with a debilitating condition, said Thursday.

His concerns, however, centered on the unknowns of using marijuana as medicine, questioning why lawmakers would allow pot to escape the federal tests all drugs must undergo before they can be prescribed.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, according to the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda E. Jesson said that two populations are particularly threatened if they use marijuana: children and those at risk of or have mental illness.

"We have lots of research that shows marijuana's impact on the brain," Jesson said.

But Dr. Jacob Mirman, an internal-medicine specialist and homeopathic practitioner based in St. Louis Park, Minn., disagreed, saying prohibiting doctors from prescribing marijuana "makes no sense."

"We've been using herbal medicines like this for thousands of years," Mirman said, noting it's much less dangerous than over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, alcohol and cigarettes.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, agreed. She pointed out that doctors prescribe medications for off-label uses all the time.

"I would like to give doctors the ability to use their medical judgment in this as well," Benson said.

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

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