By AMY FORLITI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Supporters of medical marijuana face a tough road in Minnesota where Gov. Mark Dayton has said he won't sign anything relaxing the state's drug laws without the backing of law enforcement officials, who are showing no signs of budging.
"Our position is unchanged. We do not support the legalization of marijuana for any purpose," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. "It's illegal on the federal level and we're not going to support any legislation that would put us in conflict with ... federal law."
Proponents say they plan to push for legalized medical marijuana in 2013 anyway, arguing that medical decisions should be left to doctors rather than police. They say the public mood is shifting in their favor. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and Colorado and Washington recently legalized marijuana possession for adults with small amounts of the drug.
Tom Lehman, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project, said Minnesota's proposal would have safeguards, including patient photo identification.
"We want it very tightly controlled. We want it very tightly regulated. And we want easy access at the same time," Lehman said. "There are no secret agendas here."
But law enforcement isn't on board.
"As long as they oppose it, I just don't see any possibility that it will pass in Minnesota," said Charlie Weaver, former Department of Public Safety commissioner under Gov. Jesse Ventura and former chief of staff to Gov. Tim Pawlenty — who vetoed a medical marijuana bill in 2009, citing opposition from law enforcement.
Law enforcement leaders say marijuana is an addictive gateway drug that is associated with violent crime and can lead to use of other illicit drugs. They also say states that have legalized marijuana have enforcement problems. They point to California, where federal authorities are cracking down on dispensaries. Flaherty says anyone there can get a buyer's card for just about any reason.
At a recent forum with reporters, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who has previously supported decriminalizing medical marijuana, said there might be a way to mitigate law enforcement concerns. He did not elaborate.
Law enforcement leaders offered no suggestions when asked if there is any provision that might win their approval.
"How do you try to make something better that you just philosophically oppose?" said John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorney's Association. He said all parties are open to discussing the issue, but there is nothing on the table.
Lehman said medical marijuana proponents need to work with law enforcement and will try to sit down with authorities soon.
Some states have good models, he said. In New Mexico, the state oversees production and distribution of marijuana, a medical advisory board determines what conditions qualify for its use, and doctors do not prescribe it. Instead, they certify that a patient has a qualifying condition and that standard treatment doesn't work.
He challenged authorities who don't like what they see in California or Colorado to use their expertise to help Minnesota come up with a way to "help us do it right."
"We'll see at the end of this year if they want to help patients or if they want to continue to stand in their way," Lehman said.