House proposal suggests tighter restrictions in attempt to win over governor and law enforcement.
Minnesota could become the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana under a House compromise that emerged Thursday, but it would carry some of the strictest limits in the nation.
The proposal uses Gov. Mark Dayton’s earlier offer of clinical trials to determine the drug’s efficacy, but broadens it to an unlimited number of participants that have doctors’ recommendations and who meet other eligibility requirements.
Those patients would be given the drug in pill or oil form. Some would be allowed to use a vaporizer to inhale marijuana fumes, but only with a doctor or nurse practitioner present. Unlike most states where medical marijuana is legal, trial participants would not be allowed to smoke marijuana. The state would contract with a single manufacturer to grow marijuana in-state for the clinical trials. There would be no system of statewide dispensaries.
Eligible conditions would include seizures, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, ALS, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s. Patients taking the drug in pill or oil form could do so without a doctor.
Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, the House leader on the issue, praised the compromise Thursday at a hastily called news conference that included House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
“It was important to us that we could come up with something that law enforcement could at least have a neutral position on moving forward, and I think we were able to accomplish that,” Melin said.
The medical marijuana proposal had been stalled for nearly a month in the House and was opposed by Gov. Mark Dayton and law enforcement groups, even as a companion measure gathered support in the Senate in recent days.
House leaders jumped back into the mix by moving to shrink the universe of patients eligible for the drug, and forcing those who are granted access to use it with a doctor in the room as part of a closely managed, state-funded clinical trial.
Dayton praised the effort at reaching a middle ground on an issue that has divided the Capitol for months.
“I appreciate the efforts being made to develop a bill that offers hope to children and adults suffering from horrible diseases,” he said in a statement. But, he added, “the bill places heavy new responsibilities on the Minnesota Department of Health, and I have asked Commissioner [Edward] Ehlinger to assess the costs of its implementation and its practicability. I also want legal counsel to assess the potential liability to the state from sponsoring such trials. I will need that information before making any decision.”
John Kingrey, chief lobbyist for Minnesota prosecutors, said the latest offer appears to meet most of the concerns expressed by law enforcers. “We’ve strongly supported tightly controlled clinical trials, which this bill does,” he said, “and we were very concerned about any potential diversion of the drug for nonmedical use, which this proposal appears to eliminate.”
A coalition divided
The new House proposal also pleased some of the more sympathetic and vocal backers of medical marijuana, a group of newly politically active parents of epileptic children who see the drug as a way to reduce frequent seizures in their kids.
But the compromise bill has fractured the broader medical marijuana coalition, since it would be far more tightly regulated than the Senate proposal.
Heather Azzi, a spokeswoman for the pro-marijuana advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, lashed out at the House proposal, calling it “unworkable.” She said that “people suffering from cancer or epilepsy should not have to travel to their doctors’ offices just to use a medication that is safer than other drugs they have been prescribed.”
An earlier version of Melin’s bill would have extended medical marijuana privileges to victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Those patients would still get access under the Senate bill, which also would allow smokable marijuana and would include a distribution system of 55 marijuana dispensaries around the state.
“I obviously personally wish that we could do more,” Melin said. “I don’t like that some people are being left out. But I’m of the opinion this is doing a lot for a lot of people.”