Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday he remains resistant to decriminalizing the possession of marijuana for medical or recreational use, despite recent steps other states have taken to relax their laws.
Dayton, a Democrat, addressed the issue in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, declaring, "I don't think we need another drug operating in our society."
Eighteen states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and Colorado and Washington have decriminalized possession of small amounts for any purpose.
Proposals to allow medical marijuana in Minnesota have been stalled by opposition from law enforcement. But advocates plan to push again in the 2013 legislative session. Dayton said he won't budge unless law enforcement signs off on a deal that includes strict controls on how accessible the drug would be.
"As long as law enforcement believes whatever is being proposed is going to make society more dangerous, I'm going to honor their concerns," Dayton said.
Dayton said he's concerned by reports from other states where doctors have readily dispensed prescriptions.
"In California, it's just become a joke, you just find doctors who will write you a prescription almost sight unseen," he said. "It's essentially just legalized use of marijuana by anyone. It's a terrible way to go about making public policy. Decriminalization or legalization -- that should be considered straight up and not backed into."
Dayton's remarks on marijuana drew a swift comment on Twitter from Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a Minneapolis Democrat who co-sponsored a bill to legalize it that was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2009.
"All he may need is some experience with watching a different sort of end-of-life of someone with access to marijuana," Kahn tweeted. She followed it with a second message: "Not to mention the relief in costs for our criminal justice system and stopping of ruining of young (mainly Black) lives."
Democratic Rep. Tom Huntley, a leading voice on health care issues, said he supports allowing medical marijuana to help people afflicted with constant pain, but stands with the governor in opposition to wide-scale legalization.
"If the governor doesn't want it and would veto it, there's not much point in spending a lot of time on it," said Huntley, a Duluth Democrat.
Dayton also said he would move to expand gay rights by giving public employees access to domestic partner-benefits as part of their next contract. "I'm going to do my best to put it in there," Dayton said.
Dayton is a gay-rights supporter who has previously pledged to sign a law legalizing gay marriage if the Legislature were to adopt one. Voters last month defeated a ballot measure that would have enshrined Minnesota's current ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. That law has faced court challenges.
Minnesota briefly offered health benefits to employees' domestic partners a decade ago under Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent. But Republicans balked and refused to ratify the contracts. Upon taking office in 2003, Pawlenty's administration won approval of new pacts without the benefits.
Dayton's administration circulated an offer including domestic partner benefits during talks this year, but the governor said they pulled the provision to keep them from certain defeat in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
If the benefits are adopted, domestic partners of state employees would become eligible for family health and dental coverage.
Democrats take over the Legislature next month.
The session's main order of business will be enacting a two-year budget. Dayton plans to deal with a projected deficit in part by proposing increased taxes on upper-income filers.
Dayton said he also hopes to pass a construction projects borrowing bill.
He said finishing a restoration of Minnesota's Capitol is a top priority and he plans to seek $209 million over the next two years for work on the aging 107-year-old Capitol. Dayton said the money could come in two chunks or all at once, but it's needed to keep the restoration project going. Without the money, Dayton said the project would "grind to a halt."
An economic forecast released this week said the state has the capacity to borrow $1.3 billion for construction projects over the next two years. Borrowing bills require a 60 percent vote from the Legislature, making them the only area where Republican support will be essential for Democrats.
The start of the 2013 session is the halfway point of Dayton's rookie term. Asked if he was certain to seek another four years in 2014, the 65-year-old governor gave an unequivocal yes. Then he added, "if I'm still breathing."