Marijuana bill’s future cloudy

May 01, 2007

Don Davis, West Central Tribune

Minnesota senators narrowly voted Tuesday to allow some patients in extreme pain to smoke marijuana, and the House author of the measure predicted a narrow victory, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty promises to veto any such bill.

The 33-31 Senate vote followed a debate that featured supporters who said they want to ease people’s pain fighting those who worried that allowing medical marijuana would lead to more widespread use of it.

“There is not a person on the Senate floor or a person in the state of Minnesota who hasn’t witnessed ... somebody in their world affected by a debilitating disease that medicinal marijuana could possibly help,” Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said.

Murphy’s bill would allow doctors and other medical professionals to recommend cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and other patients in a lot of pain use of marijuana. Patients could have up to 2.5 ounces of the plant, and could replenish it every 15 days from an organization with state permission to grow it.

The bill forbids anyone using medical marijuana from operating a motor vehicle and does not allow it to be smoked near schools or other public areas.

Employers would not be required to allow employees to smoke marijuana.

Murphy said marijuana only could be used to relieve pain that traditional drugs have not relieved after six months’ treatment.

Several rural Democrats joined the mostly Republican opposition to the bill. They included Keith Langseth of Glyndon, Mary Olson of Bemidji, Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, Jim Vickerman of Tracy, Gary Kubly of Granite Falls and Dan Skogen of Hewitt.

Olson said the bill lacked measures to prevent marijuana from getting into the wrong hands.

“My main concern is that this bill is far too broadly drafted to prevent widespread abuse,” Olson, DFL-Bemidji, said after the vote.

Also, Olson said, marijuana use could pose other health problems, including birth defects.

“The real disagreement comes down to whether a person thinks this is a dangerous drug or not,” Olson said.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said marijuana “is a gateway drug” that leads to harder drug and alcohol use.

“There is an awful lot of people who suffer because of the addiction,” he said.

Besides, he added, passing the bill would send young people the message that marijuana is good for them.

Murphy said last year, 20,000 Americans died of alcohol abuse, but no one ever has died from a marijuana overdose.

He said the bill contains many precautions to keep marijuana out of the wrong hands.

Murphy said he will try to include the legislation in a larger health and human services funding bill this week.

However, when reporters asked him about that Tuesday afternoon, Pawlenty said he would veto any bill allowing medical marijuana use.

The House author of the health and human services funding bill, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said he expects it to receive a vote by the full House next week. He said it will be close.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story


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