Minn. Medical Pot Bill Advances Despite Rift

Updated: 05/02/2014 10:44 PM
Created: 05/02/2014 10:56 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A rift among Minnesota supporters of legalizing medical marijuana could make it harder to get legislation in front of Gov. Mark Dayton this year.

Committees in both the House and Senate were debating competing legislation Friday. A Senate panel stripped the option of smoking marijuana as medication from its bill on Friday morning. But the House version is even more limited in how the drug may be accessed. If used in leaf form, for example, it could be done only through medically supervised delivery by vaporizer.

All 21 states, and the District of Columbia, which have legalized medical marijuana permit smoking the drug.

A House rules panel approved Hibbing Democrat Rep. Carly Melin's bill Friday afternoon. The legislation next goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. State law enforcement officials have said they won't oppose the measure.

"I'm here to support whatever they're asking for to get more access to the plant," said Paige Figi, 40, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, during her hearing testimony. Figi's daughter Charlotte, 7, is the girl after whom the medical-marijuana strain "Charlotte's Web" is named. Charlotte suffers from intractable form of epilepsy. Medical marijuana has significantly reduced her symptoms, Figi said.

But Heather Azzi, director of a group that has pushed for legalized medical marijuana, says Melin's legislation is unconstitutional because it would require a state employee to provide marijuana to patients in violation of federal law. Azzi, who has worked to craft legislation in other states, also says it is illegal because it would allow doctors to tell patients where to get medical marijuana.

Azzi's group favors legalization with fewer restrictions.

Melin did not inform several medical-marijuana supporters of her plan to announce new legislation on Thursday, activists said.

And, once they found out, Melin sequestered them in a room at the Capitol forbidding them to speak to other parents of children suffering from maladies that they believe marijuana could treat, said Azzi and several omitted parents.

Azzi has been a key ally of Melin's and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsors that chamber's bill. She has assisted both in the drafting of several versions of medical-marijuana legislation.

"My reaction was shock," Azzi said of Melin's actions. "She was my lead author and I trusted her."

Interviewed after the House hearing, Melin said she didn't think she excluded anyone.

"I tried to reach as many parents as I could, but I couldn't reach them all," Melin said.

By Friday afternoon, some parents who had been upset with Melin's brush-off had reunited under the banner of providing medical-marijuana to suffering patients who need it.

"We support both bills in the House and Senate," said Jessica Hauser, 36, of Woodbury. Hauser's son Wyatt, 2, suffers from intractable epilepsy. "We don't want to be divided on this issue. All we want to do is help patients.

Melin's bill would allow children and adults suffering from severe illnesses to use medical marijuana, with the option of a state source for the drug if no federal source is available.

Law-enforcement officials worry that allowing people to smoke the plant would result in wider distribution and use of the illegal drug. Dayton has said he would not support a bill that does not have the endorsement of law enforcement.

Dibble reluctantly offered to remove smoking as an option to appease opponents during the Friday morning Health and Human Services Division of Senate Committee on Finance hearing.

"I'm not thrilled by these changes," Dibble said during a question- and-answer period. "But they are protecting the main goals and values of the legislation, which is to get more people access to medical marijuana."

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, agreed.

"I'm disappointed," she said during the hearing. "You are being respectful."

Dibble's bill would allow patients to use a marijuana vaporizer without supervision to treat their maladies. It also would allow marijuana extracts in pill form and oils from the plant manufactured by alternative treatment centers.

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

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