House, Dayton put Minnesota closer to medical marijuana
ST. PAUL - Friday was a good day for Jeremy Pauling and others who long have worked to make medical marijuana legal in Minnesota.
An overwhelming House vote favored medical marijuana, then Gov. Mark Dayton said he could sign the House bill into law.
Now, state senators must decide whether they can give up their broader bill and accept the slimmed-down House version. That decision could come as early as Monday, a week before legislators must wrap up the 2014 session.
"I think there is going to be a compromise," Pauling said, drawing from experience he and his wife, Kristy, have gained from attending uncounted legislative hearings in the last couple of months, as well as meeting with Dayton.
The Paulings, from Montevideo, joined other medical marijuana supporters in the House gallery Friday as representatives filled more than four hours with emotional debate before approving the use of marijuana to treat medical conditions like seizures their 7-year-old daughter suffers many times a day.
The House backed medical marijuana 86-39, a few days after senators overwhelmingly passed their version that Dayton said he cannot support.
"We're pretty optimistic," Pauling said about the eventual outcome.
The legislation was stalled until about a month ago when Dayton told lawmakers to quit "hiding behind their desks" and make a decision on the issue.
Until Friday, Dayton had avoided saying whether he would sign any bill. He said he could not sign a bill until law enforcement and medical leaders gave their support. Some medical groups now support the House bill, and law enforcement organizations are staying neutral.
"Minnesotans want their children and their loved ones to have access to medicine in Minnesota that can help improve their quality of life," bill sponsor Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said in opening her argument for medical marijuana.
Many Minnesotans have moved to states like Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. Others say they will leave if the measure is not enacted this year.
"They can't wait any longer ..." Melin said. "These families cannot wait another year."
The Melin bill authorizes doctors to allow patients to use compounds made from marijuana. The House bill, like the one senators passed, does not allow smoking marijuana, only the use of liquid and pills derived from the plant.
Liquid could be vaporized to treat a patient under the House bill; the Senate bill allows the crushed plant to be vaporized.
Conditions allowed to be treated by medical marijuana include seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, extreme pain and glaucoma.
Debate was one of the most emotional seen in years.
"I feel like I have been crying all day long when I hear the stories," said Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater.
She told representatives that she survived breast cancer and her son had serious seizures, but she still opposed the bill.
"I am not convinced we have studied this enough and that we know the long-term consequences," Lohmer said.
Melin's bill technically is a study, although Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said a study needs an end date; "otherwise, it is not a study, it is a program." Attempts to put an end date on the bill failed.
"I don't think it is fair to the patients to just end the program," Melin said.
An amendment to the bill would increase the number of places Minnesotans could pick up medical marijuana from one to three.
"It is important because it addresses the geographic balance of the state of Minnesota," said the amendment's sponsor, House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul.
The Senate bill would allow marijuana to be distributed from 55 places, but law enforcement officials say that with so many locations with marijuana, it would be hard to enforce security.
Only one manufacturer would be allowed to make medicine out of marijuana plants, a fact that bothered Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. McNamara, a landscaper, said one pest, one tornado or other incident could wipe out a single facility and stop the supply of medicine.
"Creating a statutory monopoly is begging for trouble," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, adding that it would lead to higher prices.
He said a limited number of distribution centers may work for the Twin Cities area, but not the other 80 counties.
Garofalo lost his effort to substitute the more liberal Senate bill for the Melin measure.
Many legislators referred to the families like the Paulings in the House gallery, especially the children.
Melin said her bill would allow the kids to "regain the ability to simply enjoy their childhood. There are kids in the gallery today that have been robbed of their childhoods."