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Dayton proposes state-funded research into medical marijuana

Posted by: Patrick Condon under Health care, Minnesota governor, Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature Updated: March 21, 2014 - 2:59 PM

Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing that the state fund clinical trials at Mayo Clinic of cannabis-based medications for children with severe forms of epilepsy, as well as a more comprehensive study of medical marijuana. 

Several of Dayton's top deputies and his health commissioner met privately on Thursday with medical marijuna advocates. The governor ordered the meeting last week after he met with a group of advocates who showed up at his residence to demonstrate in favor of a proposal at the Capitol to legalize medical marijuana. 

Dayton's new proposal would not make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota. His chief of staff, Jamie Tincher, said in a written statement the administration is looking for ideas that could pass during the current legislative session. The proposal would provide $2.2 million in state funds for medical marijuana research, with a main focus on possible health benefits of cannabidiol, or CBD, a marijuana compound that many parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy say is effective in reducing seizures. 

"It is my understanding that key stakeholders in the law enforcement and medical communities _ including the Mayo Clinic _ would support and advocate for the approach we are considering," Tincher said. Dayton has repeatedly cited concerns from law enforcement and medical groups for his own hesitation to embrace medical marijuana, which is legal in 20 states. 

State Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said the larger study would analyze the benefits, costs and risks of medical marijuana. 

Dayton administration officials met with four patients who want access to medical marijuana and with Heather Azzi, who leads the pro-medical marijuana group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. Azzi said Friday that her group supports further research, but has concerns about how it would work in practice. 

Azzi said she appreciates the administration's efforts "but nothing here gets medical marijuana into the hands of people who need it," she said. 

Dayton's proposal would be separate from the bill to legalize medical marijuana. Azzi said administration officials assured her Dayton is not set on vetoing that bill if it gets to his desk, and won't decide until it does. But top legislative leaders in recent days have been skeptical of the bill's chances this year. 

Tincher said that discussions between the administration and groups interested in the issue would continue next week. 


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