Minn. House passes medical marijuana bill acceptable to Dayton

Marijuana is stored in bins for trimming and packaging in preparation to be sold retail at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver, Friday Feb. 14, 2014. The marijuana industry breathed a sigh of relief Friday after federal banking regulators issued long-awaited permission for them to access basic banking services.
Brennan Linsley/AP, File

The Minnesota House on Friday passed a bill that would allow the limited use of medical marijuana in pill or liquid form.

Lawmakers voted 86 to 39 Friday for the measure, which supporters say would provide relief to thousands of Minnesota patients suffering from pain or discomfort.

Gov. Mark Dayton's office said late Friday that Dayton would sign the House version of the bill if it reached his desk.

•Previously: Minn. Senate approves medical marijuana bill

•Previously: Minn. physicians ponder medical marijuana

State Rep. Carly Melin, the bill's chief sponsor, said she'd spent the past year meeting with patients, including children suffering from epileptic seizures, who might benefit from medical marijuana.

Melin said their families have waited long enough for relief.

"I know it's easy for us sometimes as politicians or legislators to just tell people that we'll wait another year. But these families can't wait another year," said Melin, DFL-Hibbing. "They need relief now, which is why it's time to move forward with a medical marijuana bill that can be signed into law and that can provide relief for suffering Minnesotans."

The legislation, known as the Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research Act, would authorize a limited observational study of medical cannabis in liquid and pill form, but not smoking.

State Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, said he used to oppose medical marijuana but changed his mind. Schoen, a police officer, said he now believes the state can balance public safety with compassion.

"In any medication we have out there, there is illicit use. It gets diverted a lot, but that doesn't take away the fact that we can take care of and help people," Schoen said. "I truly believe we're talking a step in the right direction, to help and have compassion."

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, was among several lawmakers who don't like how the bill will allow just one Minnesota entity to manufacture and distribute the cannabis.

"Having one manufacturer of this medicine is a bad idea," Garofalo said. "Creating a statutory monopoly is begging for trouble. It's begging for a concentration of power and it's begging for corruption. We don't want that."

State Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, warned that a single manufacturing facility could be vulnerable to a tornado.

"It could destroy the facility and everybody would be left without anything," McNamara said. "Having only one facility is absolutely wrong."

Several opponents of the bill stressed that while they empathize with the patients seeking relief, they believe the legislation is the wrong approach. Among them is state Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, who said he's skeptical about the bill because the cannabis would not be subject to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Are we really doing what's best?" Benson asked. "I might have been able to get behind a bill that would have limited it to a certain group and put some real scientific standards around it, include the FDA. But I don't see that in this bill, members."

•Related: Ask Dr. Hallberg: Research limited on medical marijuana

State Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said the bill needs more protections. She said her colleagues were legislating a serious matter by the seat of the pants.

"We're not just talking about changing what our state bird is," Anderson said. "We're talking about huge, significant policy for the state of Minnesota."

Earlier this week, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana bill that also prohibits smoking but allows for the manufacturing and distribution of cannabis throughout the state at up to 55 locations known as alternative treatment centers.

It's not clear yet whether House and Senate lawmakers will meet to negotiate differences in their bills or if the Senate will simply accept the House language.

Dayton on Friday wrote to lawmakers saying if the Legislature sent him the House language, he would sign it into law.

The governor, a Democrat, has taken law enforcement's side during the medical marijuana debate. Law enforcement groups that oppose the Senate bill have been neutral on the latest House measure.

The Minnesota Medical Association is backing the House version of the bill. In a letter to Representative Melin this week, MMA President Dr. Cindy Smith wrote that the House takes a more "useful, measured approach." She said the Senate bill is "overly broad in scope."

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