The fate of legal medical marijuana, stalled at the Capitol, could be tied to the outcome of clinical trials conducted by Mayo Clinic under a proposal that Gov. Mark Dayton laid out Friday.
Dayton suggested that the state fund the Mayo trials of cannabis-based medications for children with severe forms of epilepsy, as well as a more comprehensive study of medical marijuana.
The new proposal would not make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota. Dayton said Friday that the administration is looking for ideas that could pass during the current legislative session. Top legislative leaders have said in recent days they do not believe there's enough support at the Capitol to pass a much-discussed bill to legalize medical marijuana.
Dayton's chief of staff, his health commissioner and other administration officials met privately on Thursday with medical marijuana advocates. The governor ordered the meeting last week after he met with a group of medical marijuana advocates who showed up at his residence to demonstrate.
Under the governor's new plan, which he described as more an idea than a proposal, the state would provide $2.2 million for medical marijuana research. A main focus would be 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 something law enforcement, we believe, will accept," Dayton said. The governor has repeatedly cited concerns from police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials as motivating his own hesitation to fully back medical marijuana. It's legal in 20 states.
State Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said the wider 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 the trials 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 she is confident Dayton is not set on vetoing the bill if it gets to his desk. The governor has been hard to pin down on the issue, frequently noting the law enforcement concerns but also expressing sympathy for the plight of people who want access to the drug to treat medical conditions.
Dayton said Friday that medical studies might make it easier in future sessions to build support for legalization of medical marijuana.
Tincher said discussions between the administration and groups interested in the issue would continue next week.