Medical marijuana issue returns to State Capitol

ST PAUL, Minn. - Supporters of medical marijuana in Minnesota found a glimmer of hope Tuesday at the Capitol when a lawmaker signaled he would amend some version of the proposal to another bill.

Rep. Pat Garofalo will offer an amendment to the Omnibus Health and Human Services Policy bill, a measure that has already made it to the House floor and is awaiting action.

Heather Azzi, of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, said Garofalo's amendment would give lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton another opportunity to approve some form of legalized medical marijuana before the 2014 session ends.

House leaders have said they'll delay a vote on the main health bill, to buy some time to gauge what version of medical marijuana Gov. Dayton would be willing support. Otherwise, adding that hot button issue to the main bill would be an exercise in futility.

Rep. Garofalo would not discuss the specifics of his amendment, saying he didn't want to go on the record with anything that would jeopardize its chances.

It's likely the amendment would be narrow in scope, aimed at helping a set of Minnesota children who experience chronic epileptic seizures. A group of parents have asked Dayton to support the use of cannabis oil, based on evidence it can reduce the number of seizures in some children.

At the same time Tuesday, the Senate health committee announced a Thursday hearing on the Senate's version of the bill, authored by Sen. Scott Dibble.

The original House bill, authored by Rep. Carly Melin, stalled in the House after Dayton said he couldn't support any legislation that would legalize a smoked form of the drug. Dayton proposed instead a $2 million research study of the effectiveness and safety of the drug, but most medical marijuana supporters rejected the idea.

Gov. Dayton himself Tuesday told reporters the ball is in the legislature's court. Dayton said he's taken most of the heat on the issue, including being targeted in a TV ad campaign by Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.

"It really is the responsibility of the legislature, who've stood on the sidelines, except for the authors, while I engaged in this discussion," Dayton told reporters at the Capitol.

"They've hidden behind their desk for the whole session while I've taken this on. And they've been glad for the cover. So if they want to vote, let them vote, let's see."

Dayton weeks ago said he couldn't back the original legislation, which would've allowed people with debilitating pain from a clearly defined set of maladies to smoke medical marijuana, using a prescription from a doctor and drugs purchased from state-approved dispensaries.

Dayton said, based on advice he received from his own health commissioner and law enforcement leaders, the proposal carried too many risks for the state's wider population.

Some of the parents who met privately with Dayton at his residence March 13 subsequently accused him of suggesting they buy illegal marijuana on the street for their children.

Dayton denied making that statement, but pointed out to reporters earlier in the day that law enforcement told him the drug is readily available in every city in the state.


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