ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota Senate Tuesday passed a comprehensive medical marijuana bill by an overwhelming 48 to 18 margin, building pressure on Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he would veto the measure.
The Minn. House takes up it's own scaled-back version of the legislation later this week, increasing the odds that some type of medical cannabis bill could land on Gov. Dayton's desk before the session ends May 19.
Dayton has said he can't support the Senate's version because of questions raised by his Health Commissioner and law enforcement organizations. But Dayton himself gave lawmakers the impetus to put the marijuana legislation on the front burner when, on April 8th, he said the legislators had hid behind their desks while he squared off with advocates.
During the three-hour debate Tuesday afternoon a group of women that have earned the nickname "marijuana moms" at the State Capitol this session sat holding photos of children who suffer from chronic and damaging seizures caused by rare congenital disorders.
Mounting evidence shows that Charlotte's Web, an herbal medicine derived from one strain of marijuana, reduced the number of seizures and restores some of the basic functions such as speech and the ability to walk to children. In most cases it also allows the children to be weaned off prescription drugs, including some with damaging side effects.
Neither version would allow the smoked form of the drug, which would make Minnesota the first state to take smoking off the table as a way of delivering the medicine.
The Senate bill envisions 55 medical cannabis dispensaries across the state, while the House legislation features a single supplier selected by the Dept. of Health. The Senate's version would allow anyone with a written recommendation from their physician to seek cannabis, while the House version would require patients to enroll in an observational study research program.
Both bills are targeted to people with debilitating health conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV / AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizures -- including those that stem from epilepsy, severe persistent muscle spasms -- including those that stem from multiple sclerosis -- and Crohn's Disease.
Both versions would allow patients to use marijuana in the form of pills, oil and vapor. But the House version would require medical practitioners to supervise those using the vapor form, something that caused many supporters to call it unworkable for a variety of reasons.
State law-enforcement groups are neutral on the House version, but oppose the Senate version. Groups representing county sheriffs and prosecutors worry that the Senate version would be more open to abuse because of its decentralized nature.
Supporters counter, however, that the system would be tightly controlled. Also medical patients caught diverting their drugs to other individuals for recreational uses would face felony prosecution, making it a more serious crime than possession of recreational street marijuana.