The Senate and House gave final approval Friday to the bill legalizing medical marijuana for Minnesotans with a range of ailment, sending it to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature.
The Senate passed the bill on a bipartisan vote of 46-16. A short while later, the House passed it xx-xx, also with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
"It is nice when Republicans and Democrats work together to help people by expanding their personal freedoms, rather than limiting them," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Lakeville.
The proposal sets up a limited system of production and distribution of marijuana that supporters and critics alike called more restrictive than any of the 21 states that currently authorize access to medical marijuana.
About 5,000 Minnesotans are expected to be eligible for the drug, if they suffer from a list of conditions that includes cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Crohn's Disease, Tourette's Syndrome, epilepsy, severe muscle pain brought on my multiple sclerosis, or terminal illnesses with a life expectancy of less than a year if the illness or treatment produces severe or chronic pain.
Critics said there are too many unknowns to marijuana as medical treatment.
"We don’t have any studies, or proven methods of knowing what works for who, and at what level," said Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater. "We’re basically just saying, we’re going to try this and see how this works. I think that is the opposite of compassion, actually."
The drug will be available only in pill or oil forms, with smoking not allowed and access to the drug in its original plant form forbidden. It won support from Democrats and Republicans alike, leaving skeptics only the ability to raise alarms.
"It will change the face of Minnesota, folks, and don’t think it won’t," said Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. "We’re legalizing a drug."
Some backers complained about the tight limits in the proposal, but they called progress on the issue a victory. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, noted the proposal was stalled for much of the session and only revived with the persistent lobbying of a small group of families of children with epilepsy who want to treat their kids’ seizures with a marijuana-based oil.
"This was not on the legislative agenda of most of us in this room," Bakk said. "What that tells me is this is a wonderful example of how representative democracy works. A small group of families with their hurting children came to the Capitol, and they changed the law."