Medical marijuana proponents want voters to decide

Medical marijuana
A worker weighs medicinal marijuana at the Alternative Herbal Health Services cannabis dispensary in San Francisco.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Supporters of medical marijuana in Minnesota may try to put the question directly to voters.

Medical marijuana backers are preparing to try to put a constitutional amendment -- ensuring the right of the sick and dying to smoke marijuana -- on the state ballot next year.

If backers can persaude the Legislature -- a big if -- to put the measure on the ballot, a statewide campaign won't come cheap.

However, the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group pushing the legislation, appears to have the money to launch a serious campaign.

Since 2005, the group has spent nearly $900,000 lobbying the Minnesota Legislature with money raised at events like its recent fourth annual Playboy Mansion fundraiser.

"While nobody's drawn up a budget yet, our basic approach is we would spend what's needed," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the group.

Last week Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have allowed medical use of marijuana for terminally ill patients. He cited law enforcement concerns about expanded drug use.

"While I am very sympathetic to those dealing with end of life illnesses and accompanying pain, I stand with law enforcement in opposition to this legislation," he wrote in his veto letter.

It promoted a quick promise of a constitutional fight from one of the chief sponsors of the bill.

"For the governor to veto this legislation, even after the House narrowed it so much that thousands of suffering patients would have been without protection, is just unbelievably cruel," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing.

One question for Election Day in 2010 might be how the issue affects other races, including what is expected to be a close gubernatorial campaign.

"There's definitely a second layer any time you think about a constitutional amendment or a ballot question," said Mike Zipko, a political consultant at St. Paul's Goff & Howard. "You could see how someone from a progressive point of view (could use the issue) to push voter turnout even a couple of points."

There's precedent for a single issue vote helping like-minded candidates. In 2004, a number of state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage were credited with helping conservative President George W. Bush win re-election.

Zipko said a medical marijuana vote could draw extra liberal voters to the polls. He noted Jesse Ventura's gubernatorial victory in 1998, when many voters turned out to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish and voted for Ventura while they were at it.

"Everybody's looking for any kind of edge to get people to come out because these elections are getting closer and closer," Zipko said.


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)