Medical marijuana supporters soldier on, despite Dayton's dim diagnosis for bill

MaryAnn Nelson kisses daughter's hand
At a House of Representatives committee meeting to review a bill for medical marijuana Tuesday March 4, 2014, MaryAnn Nelson of Mankato kissed her daughter Rachel's hand. Rachel suffers from Rett Syndrome. "I don't want have to move to Colorado," she said.
Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP

The prospects that Minnesota lawmakers will pass medical marijuana legislation this session appear to be fading.

Gov. Mark Dayton said today his proposal to study one type of medical marijuana has been rejected by those who want broader use of the drug. Still, supporters of medical marijuana say they're not giving up.

Previously: Dayton seeks medical marijuana study

Governor Dayton's proposal was to study whether marijuana extracts in pill or liquid form could effectively treat children with an extreme form of epilepsy. Dayton wanted the state to spend $2 million to have the Mayo Clinic do the study.

Dayton proposed spending $2 million for a Mayo Clinic study on whether marijuana extracts in pill or liquid form would effectively treat children with an extreme form of epilepsy. But he said advocates of medical marijuana have rejected that proposal and as a result the issue is done for the year.

"Absent the interests of the authors in accepting something that can be supported more broadly, I don't think there's anywhere we can go this session," the governor said.

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Dayton had hoped that his proposal would settle a brewing political dispute between advocates of medical marijuana and police and prosecutors who are concerned that allowing marijuana for medical use would make it harder to control the drug. Dayton has rejected legalizing smoking marijuana for any reason and said he won't budge on that position.

"The authors of the bill are evidently not interested in carrying it forward on a more limited basis," he said. "That's their decision to make. There are people who just want to be able to smoke marijuana, and that's what they want to do legally, and that's not going to happen in this legislative session."

State Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who sponsored a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, said she is not interested in carrying Dayton's proposal as an alternative.

"It's all smoke and mirrors. That kind of study at Mayo is going to take several years to even get approved," Melin said. "So if it happens the kids that need help now aren't going to get help. If it does get approved, clinical trials are going to leave half of the kids out and half of them are going to be on placebos. I just don't think it's an effective way to get patients help that they need."

Melin, who said she is willing to drop a provision that would allow patients to smoke marijuana and grow marijuana in their homes, is seeking another committee hearing on her bill, which is stalled in committee in the House. A Senate measure also is stalled.

Other supporters of medical marijuana will also keep up their lobbying efforts. Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, said she thinks there's still a chance to convince legislators and the governor to accept a bill.

"Since the day that we started drafting this language and working on it, we have known that our only real hurdle is Governor Dayton," Azzi said. "As far as I know, what we were told at the meeting on Thursday was that he is not threatening to veto this bill. So we're moving forward under the assumption that we can work some language up that will be effective."

Law enforcement officials say they're surprised that Dayton's proposal for a study was rejected. Jim Franklin, the director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, said he wonders whether marijuana supporters are interested in further medical studies of marijuana.

"They've already made up their mind as to what they want," Franklin said. "In the end, studying and looking at these issues is good public policy because it affects all of us in many different ways. So rushing at this point is premature and something that we shouldn't be doing."

Advocates of medical marijuana say parents of sick children will hold a news conference to keep up the pressure to get a bill passed. But it's going to be a tough sell. House Speaker Paul Thissen said it will be very difficult to get legislation passed this year.

"We've said all along that if there's going to be a path forward, it would have to be some sort of compromise between all of the stakeholders who are working on this issue," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "And it's not clear to me that we're going to be able to reach that place this year."