Most of us, if we live long enough, will experience some degree of physical suffering. We may become ill ourselves or have family members or friends who struggle with progressive and possibly life-threatening diseases.

In my life, I have watched my father gradually slip away from Alzheimer's. Other people I have known endured surgeries and rounds of chemo and radiation therapies before losing their battle to various forms of cancer. Literally countless numbers of friends have struggled and died from complications stemming from HIV/AIDS.

When a loved one is seriously ill, it seems like there is so little that any of us can do. We take them to doctor appointments. Try convincing them that everything is going to be fine (though we suspect that won't be the case). We bring them meals in the hope that they can eat. We hold their hands. And sometimes, when the suffering has become almost unbearable, we tell them it's OK to let go and die.

But there is something more we can do that may help ease pain or lessen conditions or side-affects associated with diseases that are sometimes terminal. Medically prescribed marijuana can help treat nausea, increase appetite and prevent unintentional weight loss. It has proven useful in the alleviation of pain. It may calm patients who are anxious and help them rest more comfortably.

Last week, 36 members of the Minnesota Senate voted in the majority to approve the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients. I'm not sure if they voted this way based on the benefits of medically administered cannabis, or if they have experienced physical suffering in their lives. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful our Senate has approved the measure. The Minnesota House of Representatives is expected to consider similar legislation during this session. Governor Tim Pawlenty, citing concerns about increased crime and drug use, opposes the legalization of medical marijuana.

Minnesota is not at the forefront of this issue. Fourteen states, from Alaska and Hawaii to Rhode Island and Vermont, have legalized the use of medical marijuana, as have countries like Canada, Austria and Israel. There are lessons to be learned from these states and countries about how to legally administer appropriate dosages of marijuana to the appropriate patients that will not increase the illegal use of the substance.

For those of you who haven't experienced physical suffering – count your blessings. And join those of us who want to do more than just hold the hands of dying loved ones by urging our representatives to legalize the medical use of marijuana in Minnesota.

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