By Laurie Blake

Expecting some state legislators to try again next year to legalize marijuana for medical uses, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom has reaffirmed his position against it.

Backstrom, joined by Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows, held a forum and a news conference in West St. Paul Nov. 20 to oppose the legalization of marijuana for medical use as a danger to public health and safety.

"Minnesota law enforcement officers and prosecutors have significant empathy for anyone suffering the ill effects of the serious medical diseases and conditions that 'medical' marijuana legislation is claimed to be needed for, but we also experience on a daily basis the pain and suffering that is directly and indirectly attributable to the illegal cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana," Backstrom said.

"The simple fact of the matter is that marijuana is not a medicine," Backstrom said. "Rather, it is an addictive drug that is the most widely abused controlled substance in our state and nation. In every state where legislation of this nature has been adopted, serious problems have occurred. It would be a serious mistake for Minnesota to not learn from these problems and adopt legislation allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes."

Among other things, Colorado has reported a significant increase in impaired driver-related deaths since legalizing marijuana for medical use, Backstrom said.

In Dakota County, marijuana leads to other crime, Backstrom said. "Marijuana is the cash crop for a lot of the gangs that deal in drugs."

Legislators approved the legalization of medical marijuana in 2009 and it was vetoed by then Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

At the legislative session last year, about 40 legislators in both parties, including more than a dozen committee chairmen, worked to add Minnesota to the list of 18 states where it can be prescribed for medical purposes.

Proposed legislation would allow doctors to prescribe up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

Gov. Mark Dayton has opposed medical marijuana because law enforcement officials oppose it. If it were passed again, he would be in a position to veto the legislation.

Backstrom said the experience in other states that have already legalized marijuana for medical use demonstrates that "the vast majority of users of 'medical' marijuana will not be using it to treat the complications of serious medical conditions like cancer, glaucoma or MS, but rather to treat pain. Experience in other states also tells us that despite good intentions, 'medical' marijuana will end up in the hands of persons not needing it for medical reasons, including our state's youth."

Marijuana is a dangerous drug that is associated with violent crime and impairs driving, Backstrom said. "It is far more powerful today than it was 30 years ago, and it serves as a gateway to the use of other illegal drugs."

The American Medical Association opposes legalization of marijuana for medical use. There are other ways, such as inhalers or patches, to deliver the active ingredient in marijuana in a form that is controlled for medical use, Backstrom said.

"If we call this illegal and dangerous drug a 'medicine'... this will clearly enhance the perception of harmlessness of this substance, and this in turn will result in increased use of marijuana illegally by other persons, including youth.

"For all of these reasons and more,'' he said, "the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, and the Minnesota State Association of Narcotics Investigators all strongly oppose the adoption of a law in Minnesota which would authorize the use of marijuana for medical purposes."

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287