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Minnesota House OKs medical marijuana

ST. PAUL — Medical marijuana is a couple of steps away from being allowed in Minnesota.

The House late this afternoon approved a slimmed down measure in 86-39 vote. Senators passed their broader bill 48-18 Tuesday. The two bills likely will head to House-Senate negotiators to craft a measure Gov. Mark Dayton can sign.

Dayton says he needs to know more about the House bill before he can say if he could sign it. The Senate measure, which law enforcement leaders oppose, allows far more marijuana distribution centers and other provisions Dayton and police cannot accept.

Sick Minnesotans, like those filling the House gallery, are why Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, has pushed the medical marijuana bill for a year.

"Minnesotans want their children and their loved ones to have access to medicine in Minnesota that can help improve their quality of life," Melin told fellow representatives.

Many Minnesotans have gone to states like Colorado, where medical marijuana already is legal. Others say they will leave if the measure is not enacted this year.

"They can't wait any longer..." Melin said. "These families cannot wait another year."

But critics said Melin goes too far.

"Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, are very skeptical of this," Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said. "To say we are not compassionate about it is incorrect and it is wrong. It is a question about whether we are doing what is best."

Saying he might have been able to support a bill that established a real medical study, Benson added that doctors -- not politicians -- should make medical decisions.

The Melin bill allows doctors to approve some patients to use compounds made from marijuana. The House bill, like the one senators passed, does not allow smoking marijuana. The House bill allows the use of liquid and pills derived from the plant. Liquid could be vaporized to treat a patient.

Conditions that could be treated by medical marijuana would include seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, extreme pain and glaucoma.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, urged representatives to adopt the Senate bill because it would save money, allow marijuana to be available in more places and help more people. His attempt failed 97-28.

Rep. Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, said that if the House accepted the Senate bill, it would kill the concept for the year because Dayton would not sign it.

"Politics is the art of the possible," he said.

Dayton has said he will sign the bill only if it has law enforcement and medical organizations' support. The Senate bill does not. Law enforcement appears to be neutral on the House bill, which has some medical groups' backing.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.