Minnesota police officers, sheriffs and prosecutors pushed back hard Wednesday against legalizing marijuana for medical use, as a proposal to do just that picks up steam in the state Senate.
"It will end up in the hands of our children," said John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. "It will result in more kids being arrested for possession of marijuana. We believe it sends the unintended message to our youth that marijuana is a safe substance."
A succession of law enforcement officials denounced the proposal at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warning that authorizing marijuana for a range of users with a doctor's prescription — from cancer patients to chronic pain sufferers — would make the drug more widely available statewide. They also argued it would be a foot in the door for efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use, as has recently occurred in Colorado and Washington.
Minnesota law enforcement groups have long opposed legalizing medical marijuana, but Wednesday's testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee was their most vocal and uniform pushback. It came as the controversial proposal was revived last week in the Senate and is rapidly sailing through a series of Senate committees, after sitting dormant for much of the session.
After hearing testimony and amendments for more than five hours, the Judiciary Committee opted to pass the bill through "without recommendation," a practice typically used to keep a bill alive. The committee took a voice vote, so individual votes are unknown. The bill has at least one more committee stop before it can be voted on by the full Senate.
A companion bill in the House, where members are up for re-election this year, has been in limbo since March, and shows no similar signs of revival. House leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton have resisted attempts to resurrect the proposal. Senate passage, however, could keep the volatile issue alive right up to the end of the legislative session, and complicate DFL leaders' efforts to bring an orderly finish.
The DFL governor has repeatedly cited law enforcement concerns as a principal reason for his own opposition. That has drawn scorn from the proposal's well-organized supporters, a group of patients seeking access to the drug as well as parents of children with severe epilepsy, who see it as an effective way to reduce their children's seizures.
Opponents, who include the state health commissioner, have cited the lack of scientific research that proves the drug's efficacy as a medical treatment.
"People are participating in a criminal enterprise, and they don't want to be," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill's Senate sponsor. By making it legal, he said, "at least they're working with a doctor and taking some care in figuring out a path forward."
Law enforcement officials on Wednesday said they would support a state-funded study into medical marijuana that Dayton has offered as a compromise.
"We want to make it clear today that we want to be part of the solution, to help children and adults who are suffering find comfort and relief through marijuana," said Andy Skoogman, director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.