Marathon meeting with Dayton yields new hope for medical marijuana

Governor said he’d work for compromise after hearing advocates’ stories.

Wrapped in a body cast as he recovers from hip surgery, Gov. Mark Dayton was on the phone Thursday with reporters, laying out all the reasons he remained opposed to the legalization of medical marijuana.

Outside the wrought-iron gates of his Summit Avenue residence, demonstrators were gathering. Some held aloft a “get-well” card that offered some caustic tips for a speedy recovery like, “Stop bowing down to law enforcement.”

To their surprise, Dayton’s chief of staff came outside and said that the governor wanted to meet with a smaller contingent. The 50 or so demonstrators marched inside and sent 11 representatives upstairs to the governor’s private family rooms.

By the end of the meeting, with Dayton left pained by the stories he’d heard, the governor had a revised take on the issue. Dayton said he would direct his top commissioners and staffers to meet with the group and see if some compromise could be reached in the remaining two months of the legislative session.

Minutes earlier, Dayton had been on the phone broadening and sharpening his criticism of medical marijuana. The legalization bill at the Capitol, he said, would treat marijuana differently from nearly every other medicine controlled by a system of tightly regulated production, stringent testing and supervision by pharmacists.

He told reporters the bill’s proposed system of 55 nonprofit distribution sites was “just folly.” Law enforcement had impressed upon him that if medical marijuana were legalized, it would find its way into the hands of children and recreational users. Health experts had told him the medicinal qualities of the drug were unproven.

Patrick McClellan, a former chef from Burnsville, was among the demonstrators who filed into Dayton’s room. He told the governor of the muscle spasms and pain caused by his muscular dystrophy. He said inhaling marijuana through a vaporizer is one of the few things to bring relief. “My only choice is to buy it on the black market,” McClellan said. “I don’t believe I should be forced to go on the street to buy something that cures my symptoms.” Several parents in the group said they believed the drug would help treat the diseases of their children.

Dayton’s spokesman said after the meeting it was difficult for the governor to hear from Minnesotans “enduring such pain and suffering.”

Hard choices

Whether to legalize marijuana for medical use has at least momentarily dominated debate around the Capitol, taking on national implications as Minnesota becomes the newest state to delve deeper into the controversial issue.

For months, Dayton’s criticism has centered on law enforcements’ strong objection to legalizing marijuana for patients with a doctor’s prescription, arguing that it would be too hard to control and could lead to full-scale legalization.

Earlier this week, the issue reached a deadlock at the Legislature, leading the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Carly Melin, to pull her proposal.

Thursday’s demonstration was organized by the advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. Dozens of activists signed a large card for Dayton that read: “Key to a speedy recovery: 1. Stop bowing to law enforcement; 2. Show some backbone.”

McClellan described the meeting afterward as “emotional.”

The governor, he said, “did say there is still plenty of time, that there’s two months left in the session, that it is not dead.”

Fresh hope

Heather Azzi, political director for the compassionate care group, said she hopes access to senior members of the administration will give new life to the push for the legislation.

T.J. Nelson, a student who lives near Brainerd, said marijuana has helped alleviate symptoms of his Crohn’s disease, including digestion problems, severe stomach pain and loss of appetite.

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