Medicinal marijuana backers try to get on Minneapolis ballot

August 10, 2004

Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune

As medicinal marijuana supporters submitted a petition Tuesday to get the issue on the Minneapolis ballot in November, key City Council members questioned the action.

Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction submitted a petition to the city elections office with what they say are 12,000 signatures, substantially more than the required 7,774 signatures of registered city voters. The elections office has begun certifying the signatures to ensure that they are valid.

The proposed language would amend the City Charter, 'to require that the City Council shall authorize, license, and regulate a reasonable number of medicinal marijuana distribution centers in the city of Minneapolis as is necessary to provide services to patients who have been recommended medicinal marijuana by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to practice in the state of Minnesota to the extent permitted by state and federal law.'

The council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee will discuss the issue Tuesday. Committee Chairman Scott Benson said he doesn't think the issue is appropriate for the charter.

The council legally has some decision-making authority on whether to put charter amendments on the ballot. The extent of that authority will be discussed at the committee meeting.

But both Benson and Council President Paul Ostrow say it seems to be a waste to take a vote and possibly amend the charter for something over which the city has no legal authority.

Benson said, 'If it's not a proper subject matter to be regulated by the charter, which I don't think this is, it doesn't have to go on the ballot.'

Ostrow agreed, saying marijuana legalization clearly is an issue for the Legislature, not the City Council. (The Legislature hasn't conducted a committee meeting on medicinal marijuana since 2000.)

Benson and Ostrow say putting the issue to Minneapolis voters would result not in any changes, but would merely be a poll of popular opinion.

Council Vice President Robert Lilligren, however, said that he signed the petition and that he is supportive of medicinal marijuana after seeing about 20 friends die of complications from AIDS. 'One of the few things that brought them some relief and encouraged them to eat was smoking marijuana,' he said.

Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction President Aaron Marcus said the proposal doesn't conflict with the law because it's conditioned on a change in state or federal law.

'I think it is an uphill battle, but I believe the climate is right,' Marcus said.

Rochelle Olson is at raolson@startribune.com.



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