Minn. medical marijuana bill takes another step forward

March 19, 2007

Joe Fryer, KARE 11 (Minneapolis)

A proposal to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana with their doctors' permission is working its way through the state legislature. The House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee approved the measure by an 11-to-8 vote Monday night, after passing a few amendments.

Don Haumant testified in front of the committee. After years of suffering from chronic liver disease and other ailments, he says only one thing made a difference: marijuana.

"I ate more, I gained weight, I felt healthier, I felt that I could take care of myself, I could do things," he says. "I could work and be productive."

When he lived in California, he was allowed to smoke marijuana for medical reasons.

"And then when I moved here, it was harder to obtain and the quality was less," Haumant says.

He says legalizing marijuana for medical use would help eliminate those obstacles.

Rep. Steve Sviggum (R - Kenyon), who once opposed such a proposal, now feels it's the compassionate thing to do.

"It's more of a left and right coming together, which I think is a very good bill and one Minnesota should become the 13th state to pass," Sviggum told the House committee.

But there is strong opposition from law enforcement and prosecutors.

"Immediate and obvious areas of concern include existing conflicts with federal law, the potential for youth access and abuse, and the potential for this action being used as a platform for legalizing marijuana on a larger scale," says Mitch Weinzetl of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

Opponents fear the bill would give the impression marijuana is harmless.

"Smoking is harmful to the human body in any form, and it's particularly harmful with marijuana, which has significantly more dangerous chemicals than tobacco," says Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.

The House version that passed Monday night is stricter than a version of the bill recently approved by a Senate committee.

Governor Tim Pawlenty says he opposed the use of marijauna for medical purposes, but sponsors hope to make changes that will persuade him to sign the bill, if it passes in both houses.

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