Kelley authors MN medical marijuana bill

April 13, 2005

Marc Ingber, Sun Newspapers

The debate over legalizing medical marijuana has been going on throughout the country for years, but the issue is once again being brought up in Minnesota.

The medical marijuana bill S.F. 1973 passed through the Senate Health and Family Security Committee by a 5-2 vote April 5. The bill, which would protect medical marijuana patients and their caregivers from the threat of arrest and imprisonment, was co-authored by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-44, representing Golden Valley, Hopkins and St. Louis Park.

It was the first time a medical marijuana bill has ever passed a committee in Minnesota, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which describes itself as the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. A similar bill was introduced in the state Legislature a few years ago, but it didn’t have much luck, Kelley said.

He said this bill is based on similar bills that have passed in other states. Ten states have enacted laws that protect seriously ill patients using medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Kelley, who co-authored the bill with Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-7A, who represents Duluth, said it would put the decision to use medical marijuana in doctors’ hands because patients would need a certificate of eligibility from them to receive the treatment.

“I’m not talking about legalization,” he said. “I know it’s controversial, but it’s important for a society to be compassionate to these people with serious diseases.”

The serious disease Kelley talks about is often cancer, he said, but it’s not exclusive to that.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is not supportive of the bill, according to his press secretary, Brian McClung. He said the governor feels there are enough medicines and pain relievers available to not have to resort to marijuana.

He said it was unlikely the bill would pass both the House and the Senate during this legislative session, as it still would have a number of committees to pass through.

“Even the supporters of the bill don’t think the bill will pass all the legislative hurdles this year,” McClung said.

Kelley acknowledged this and also said he was aware Pawlenty could veto the bill if it does get to him. However, he said the bill has bipartisan support and polls show the majority of Minnesotans support legalizing medical marijuana.

According to a statewide Zogby International Poll, about 60 percent of Minnesotans support the bill. About 30 percent said passing the bill would send the wrong message to children, compared to about 60 percent who said it would not.

Even if the bill passes, medical marijuana would still be unlawful under federal law, Kelley said. He’s been supportive of similar bills in the past, he said, but this is the first time he’s been involved in the authoring of one. “I picked it up because I’m concerned with how we’re treating people with serious illnesses,” he said.

The bill’s next step is to go to a judiciary committee, which was expected to happen in the next few weeks.



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