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Supporters of legal marijuana rally at Capitol

With her 7-month-old son Anthony Bryan riding, Gerri Hoffman documented the Yes we Cannabis! rally to legalize marijuana in Minnesota at the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News)

Supporters of legal marijuana packed the Minnesota Capitol rotunda today.

Lawmakers are debating a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but members of Minnesota’s Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are pushing a much broader effort - full legalization of marijuana.

No bills have been introduced this session to legalize marijuana but Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, told the rally she supports it to increase state revenue and reduce arrests for possession.

“Let’s create a system right here at this Capitol where we can tax, where we can regulate the sales and increase the revenue at the state of Minnesota so we can invest more wisely in all of us.”

Backers of medical marijuana were careful to distance themselves from the rally.

“The larger legalization effort is distracting from what we’re proposing to do,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “The focus of this bill is very much on people who are ill and suffering from very chronic symptoms, conditions and diseases and have no relief available to them now.”

But Nathan Ness, organizing director for Minnesota's chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws, said there's no reason to limit marijuana use to people who need it for medical reasons.

"We're rescuing the issue back from the strictly medical community. We don't want this thing to be controlled by pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists from DC," he said. "When you actually go around the state and talk to people, they do support full legalization."

Both groups are at odds with police and prosecutors who don’t want to increase access to marijuana.

A Senate committee is scheduled to debate the medical marijuana bill on Friday.

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