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Senate OK's medical marijuana

A marijuana leaf is displayed at Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattl

ST. PAUL — Minnesotans suffering conditions they feel only marijuana can help cheered Tuesday as senators overwhelmingly approved using extracts from the plant for medical uses.

Meanwhile, state representatives prepared to debate the issue as early as Friday.

“This is restricted only to medical purposes only under very, very tight conditions,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsored the Senate bill.

Dibble said his bill would help thousands of Minnesotans with “tremendous pain, tremendous discomfort” due to illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, glaucoma and seizures.

Opponents said they feared what may happen if medical marijuana is allowed.

“We all know this is a push for recreational marijuana in the state of Minnesota,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

The Senate passed Dibble’s medical marijuana bill 48-18 after four hours and 20 minutes of debate in an effort to make Minnesota the 22nd state to allow medical marijuana. Also Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee approved on a split voice vote a bill that is less permissive than the Senate bill.

Parents of children with seizures they feel can be aided by marijuana attended the committee meeting and the Senate debate, holding up pictures of the afflicted youths. The children themselves attended many committee meetings during the legislative process, sometimes suffering seizures during testimony about the bill.

House author Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said her bill could be up for a full House vote Friday.

While provisions in the two bills differ, neither would allow smoking marijuana. Gov. Mark Dayton has said that is a step in the right direction, but that he will not sign a medical marijuana bill until law enforcement and medical officials get behind it.

Many Republican senators reinforced Dayton’s comments that medical leaders have yet to endorse medical marijuana.

The strong Senate vote was big enough to overturn any Dayton veto. The bill has had a harder time in House committees.

State officials estimate that more than 5,000 Minnesotans would buy marijuana each month.

Under both bills, patients would be required to pay to join the medical marijuana registry and for the marijuana. Health insurance would not pay for the medication.