Gov. Mark Dayton came under fire Wednesday from an unexpected source: parents of children with disabilities who want access to medical marijuana.
They accused Dayton of standing in the way of legislation to legalize medical marijuana and of bowing to law enforcement opposition. Dayton claimed the advocates misunderstood his recent comments, and said that he still wants to find a compromise this session.
The trouble began for Dayton this week when he was asked about medical marijuana during an interview on WCCO Radio. He said the prospects for a medical marijuana bill this session were slim to none because some advocates, including the bill authors, weren't interested in his recent proposal for a $2 million Mayo Clinic study. Dayton said the study would look at a marijuana extract to see if it could relieve the symptoms of epilepsy in small children.
"I'm mystified that people who want more than that in the legislation could be opposed to something that could help hundreds of kids that are suffering from epilepsy," he said.
Some of the parents of children suffering from epilepsy, including Maria Botker of Clinton, Minn., did not like what they heard, believing that Dayton was blaming them for the bill's poor chances.
"I would do absolutely anything to help my daughter, and so would every single one of these parents here," Botker said. "For the governor to suggest otherwise is absolutely ridiculous."
Botker and other parents criticized the governor during a state Capitol news conference, organized by the advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. Botker said her daughter Greta has been living in Colorado since November to have legal access to marijuana, and the treatment has dramatically reduced her seizures.
She said she supports research, but needs access now. "Gov. Dayton, you just received some of the best health care that this state has to offer," Botker said, referring to Dayton's recent hip surgery. "I want you to allow my daughter to have that same privilege. Please, please just help us now, please."
Advocates claim Dayton's proposal for a study is flawed because researchers would have trouble getting marijuana to test.
Angie Weaver of Hibbing, Minn., said her daughter Amelia needs medical marijuana to ease her pain and cannot wait any longer. Weaver said Dayton dashed her hopes for a comprehensive medical marijuana law in Minnesota.
"Please Gov. Dayton, do not force my family to leave the state where my family, church and community is. Please give my daughter access to life saving medicine now. No parent should have to watch their child suffer the way that we've watched Amelia suffer," Weaver said.
Dayton responded to the parents' concerns ahead of their news conference.
In a statement, he said he has the deepest sympathy for children and adults, who are afflicted with serious diseases, and for their parents who must suffer with them.
He said his earlier comment was "in no way intended to refer to victims," or their parents.
Dayton also tried to breathe new life into legislation by urging advocates and legislators to keep talking in search of compromise.
Many of the same parents met with Dayton earlier this month in a private discussion. During the news conference, one participant accused Dayton of making a surprising recommendation during that meeting. Jessica Hauser of Woodbury said the governor suggested that she buy marijuana for her son on the street, or in another state.
"That's absurd, and to have the top official in Minnesota suggest that to my face when I'm looking for compassion and a thoughtful solution, it's just completely offensive."
Soon after, Dayton responded in a second statement: "I cannot, and I do not, advocate breaking the law," he said. "But as a father, I understand parents who would do anything possible to help their children."
Dayton went on to say that his proposed compromise would provide advocates' children with medication and relief as quickly as possible. He said something can be accomplished this session, if advocates agree.