Making marijuana legal for medical use gains support

February 20, 2007

Danielle Cabot, The Pilot-Independent (MN)

ST. PAUL — Legalization of medicinal marijuana use, once a dubious political proposal, has gathered bipartisan momentum this session, and was passed last Wednesday by the Health, Housing and Family Safety committee, the first of many committee hearings to come.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, would legalize medicinal marijuana use for patients with chronic or debilitating diseases which could include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and Hepatitis C, or conditions including wasting, pain, nausea or seizures.

The House bill has 13 co-sponsors including, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, Majority Leader Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and former House Speaker Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

A study released Tuesday in the journal Neurology reports that marijuana provided "significant relief" for AIDS patients, and joins other studies and anecdotal evidence that its classification as a Schedule 1 narcotic with no medical benefits may be outdated, argued supporters.

The bill would allow cultivation of up to twelve plants and possession of 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana by diagnosed patients or caregivers with a registration card from the Commissioner of the Department of Health.

Registration would require a written confirmation from a doctor, but marijuana would be a recommendation, not a prescription.

That's a serious concern to opponents like Tom Pritchard of the Minnesota Family Council, who said that the dosage and quality of marijuana would not be regulated, and its cultivation and distribution limits would be unenforceable.

"Would you want a drug approved by the Minnesota Legislature, or the FDA?" asked Pritchard.

Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, argued that he would rather take the advice of a medical doctor than an FDA administrator, and would vote for the bill in response to Pritchard's testimony.

Testifiers in favor of the bill claimed that marijuana eased muscle spasticity and chronic pain without the sedating effects of dangerous and highly addictive prescription narcotics.

Shannon Pakonen, who was born with Tourette's syndrome, called marijuana, "the most reliable treatment I've encountered over a lifetime of medications."

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, supports the bill, and thinks that patients should be able to access a treatment with "proven benefits" to alleviate their pain.

The bill is unconstitutional and law enforcement opposes the bill "in its entirety," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. He argued that there was no convincing medical evidence that marijuana was safe or effective, and decriminalization would create a "perception of harmlessness."

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Administration for ease of abuse and lack of medical application. However, almost all marijuana enforcement happens at the state and local level, allowing states to pass medical marijuana acts in violation of federal law without repercussion.

The proposal draws much of its support from the medical community including the Minnesota Nurses Association. The American Medical Association and the Institute of Medicine do not support use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, a medical marijuana advocacy group, touted more than 2,700 Minnesota licensed physicians and nurses who support the bill.
"The frontline professional caregivers think this makes sense," said Tom Lehman of MCC.
Neal Levine, director of MCC, said that while prescription drugs can be dangerous, it is impossible to overdose on marijuana. Eleven states and Canada have legalized medical marijuana statutes, and according to Levine, most recently, Colorado has seen success in registration and control of its program.

Former House Speaker Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said in a press release that he agreed with President Bush's State of the Union address comment that "physicians and patients should make health care decisions."

The bill's next stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee which approved the bill in last year's session.



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