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House heralds medical marijuana compromise

 Thissen: Law enforcement “not opposed to” bill

On Thursday House leaders announced a breakthrough in negotiations with law enforcement on the hot-button topic of medical marijuana, offering new legislation that they say police organizations have agreed not to oppose. The deal signals a key step in the ongoing debate over marijuana, as Gov. Mark Dayton’s opposition to previous proposals has been predicated on the objections of law enforcement groups.

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, chief author of the bill in the House, presented the new bill as a workable compromise that stands a good chance of passage in the remaining weeks of this session.

“At this point, the goal of the Legislature is to get something enacted to help families across the state,” Melin said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen said the terms of the deal are amenable to both law enforcement groups and parents, some of whom have become fixtures at the Capitol during the continuous hearings and meetings on the topic this session.

“It’s a deal that the parents can be supportive of, that law enforcement is not opposed to,” Thissen said.

Under the terms of Melin’s new bill, patients suffering from a number of conditions – including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and seizure disorders – would qualify to participate in clinical trials undertaken in conjunction with the legislation. The active ingredients in marijuana could be consumed in a variety of ways under the proposal, including oil or liquid form.

Qualifying patients could also use a vaporizer to consume the plant form of the drug, but that use would have to take place under the supervision of a doctor or nurse; smoking marijuana is explicitly prohibited in the new proposal.  The deal results from private negotiations between law enforcement and House DFL leadership.

While Melin’s original legislation has been stalled in committee for several weeks, its Senate companion has advanced rapidly through a number of committees, with only a handful of committee votes registered against its passage.

Dayton, for his part, met news of the brokered agreement with a cautious statement that praised legislators for their work on the negotiations. Dayton said he would turn the new proposal over to Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who has testified in committee against the current Senate bill.

“I also want legal counsel to assess the potential liability to the State from sponsoring such trials,” Dayton said. “I will need that information before making any decision.”

Distribution scheme changed

Under Melin’s bill, the manufacture and distribution of marijuana-based products would be handled by a single vendor contracting with the state Department of Health. That’s a significant reduction from the 55 distribution centers around the state envisioned by earlier incarnations of the legislation.

The state would appropriate $2.7 million to fund implementation of the new treatments, $2.2 million of which would fund clinical trials. The results of those trials would be reported to the Department of Health, the Legislature and in scientific journals.  The bill calls for the state to contract with an in-state marijuana products maker by December 1, 2014, if a federal government producer is not available by August of this year. As Melin pointed out during the announcement, all 21 states that currently allow medicinal marijuana use go through in-state vendors.

Other provisions in the bill are intended to prevent discrimination by schools, landlords and employers due to a patient’s testing positive for marijuana use.

The legislation would create a 23-member task force to assess the impact of marijuana on patients. The board’s make-up would include four legislators, as well as the commissioners of health, human services and public safety; aside from those commissioners, the governor would have authority to make 12 of the task force appointments.

Dibble: ‘whole new set of ideas’

Reached shortly after the House press conference, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was still reviewing the proposal, but liked some features of the new House legislation. Dibble’s own medicinal marijuana bill has cleared three committee votes during the past week, and is scheduled to appear in the Senate Health and Human Services Finance Committee on Friday.

Dibble spoke with Melin prior to her press conference, and said he saw “some interesting ideas” in the bill.

“I’m not reflexively rejecting it or opposed to it,” Dibble said. “That being said, it’s a whole new set of ideas than the proposal that we had in common, which has had hours of pretty intensive hearings through three major committees.”

Dibble praised the bill for its incorporation of and expansion on Dayton’s own ideas. The House bill proposes a more expansive approach to the question of clinical studies than Dayton, who had suggested a more limited trial at the Mayo Clinic. Melin’s bill would also make medical marijuana available for treating a broader range of conditions than Dayton, who expressed interest only in a particular chemical extract, CBD, that has shown effectiveness in treating some forms of childhood epilepsy.

“My concern is, who has access, and what does that access – and the relief from their suffering – look like?” Dibble said.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said Melin’s bill would be put up for a vote in the House Rules Committee on Friday, and said it was “unclear” when the bill would reach the House floor.

Dibble said he expects his own version of the bill to continue moving through the Senate committee process, and said he was not yet sure how the two bills might be joined into one.

“We’re going to proceed with our bill,” Dibble said, “and we’ll have to take this idea into consideration.”

Minnesotans for Compassionate Care political director Heather Azzi, who has been lead lobbyist for that organization this session, was critical of the deal, which she said would force Department of Heath employees to violate federal law by contracting for medicinal marijuana, while also causing doctors to carry out measures that could cost their licenses.

Azzi said she was not allowed to meet with parents and patients who would be affected by the legislation prior to Thursday’s press conference, and said the deal seemed to be struck solely according to the interests of law enforcement. Following the announcement, Azzi met privately with Melin and a representative from Thissen’s office, who, she said, expressed openness toward amending the law to address her issues with its current form.

“I’m going to be working with the House to try to fix this proposal,” Azzi said. “I don’t know if the law enforcement community is going to be willing to fix this in any way that works.”

One comment

  1. I would sign up for clinical trials, only if I would receive a good bonus in a form of cash or check. After all, as dangerous as people are saying it is I would need some reassurance that I would be taken care of. I do know one thing though, and that is the cannibus approved by government for the clinical trials would and should not contain all the pesticides and growth hormone chemicals, like the stuff that is available on the street. Distributed by someone looking to make a quick buck by peddling cannibus that was grown with chemicals that are more dangerous than the drug itself.

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