Medical marijuana bill introduced for debate next year

State lawmakers introduced legislation today to legalize the use of medical marijuana, but they aren't looking for any action on the measure until next year.

Similar bills have been tried before, but ran into strong opposition from law enforcement officials. Then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a measure in 2009. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he too will side with law enforcement in opposition to legalizing medical marijuana.

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said her bill would create one of the most restrictive laws in the country. Melin said people with serious illnesses would need a doctor's recommendation and a special state identification card to legally obtain small quantities medical marijuana from government-regulated dispensaries.

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"This legislation strikes the appropriate balance between compassion, health and safety," Melin said. "It protects and provides relief to some of our state's most vulnerable citizens and it does in a manner that is well regulated and well controlled."

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, is a co-author of the bill. He said medical marijuana is not a partisan issue.

"I think we've got support in the Legislature to pass it," Hackbarth said. "We're introducing it now so we can gain support talk to legislators and then really hit it hard, hit the the ground running when session starts next year."

The chief author of the Senate bill is Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

A group called Minnesotans for Compassionate Care is leading the push to legalize medical marijuana. Similar laws are in place in 18 states and the District of Columbia.