House mulls medicinal marijuana bill

Some at the Capitol believe that Gov. Pawlenty might veto the bill if it passes.

Should Minnesota be the first state in the Midwest to legalize medicinal marijuana?

That’s the question Gov. Tim Pawlenty could be asking himself in the next few weeks.

A bill that would legalize marijuana for Minnesotans with “debilitating medical conditions” passed in the Senate almost a year ago and is currently facing the House.

If passed, qualifying Minnesotans 18 years of age and older would be allowed 12 marijuana plants and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana at a time.

With wide bipartisan support, Rep. Chris DeLaForest, R-Andover, said he’s confident the bill will pass the House.

However, DeLaForest recognized Pawlenty might veto the bill and said he’s trying to work with the governor to craft a bill he’d approve.

The debate

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, the author of the bill introduced to the Senate last year, said legalizing medicinal marijuana in Minnesota is a personal issue for him.

Murphy described the difficult time his family had when his father had cancer a few years ago and how it inspired him to pursue the bill.

“You talk to any doctor,” he said. “A lot of these chemo patients, if they’re fatigued and they’re sick and they’re not eating, their chances of survival go down. And nobody wants that for anybody. (Medical marijuana) does provide relief for those who choose to use it.”

Whether Pawlenty will veto the bill, Murphy said, is a “coin toss.”

“He tends to change his mind midstream sometimes,” he said. “The approval rating of (legalizing medicinal marijuana) is astronomically high. And I just can’t see how the governor says he’s representing the people and yet would veto this bill.”

However, some Minnesotans don’t think medicinal marijuana is the answer.

Tom Prichard, president of Minnesota Family Council, said he has several problems with the bill.

Prichard said he doesn’t think the Legislature should be determining which drugs are deemed safe.

“By them legalizing its use for medical purposes, they’re sending the message that it’s a safe and legal substance, when, in fact, the evidence out there suggests it isn’t,” he said.

Prichard also criticized the language of the bill, suggesting terms like “debilitating medical condition” are too ambiguous.

“Is it tennis elbow?” he said. “I would think you could classify that as a debilitating condition.”

The bill states a health commissioner can define debilitating medical conditions, but cancer, severe chronic pain, seizures and some conditions of HIV are included in the definition.

Prichard questioned the intent behind the bill, suggesting the people behind it are trying to further a more widespread legalization of marijuana.

“In my view, it’s pretty clear what’s involved here,” he said. “This is just an effort to more broadly legalize it.”

David Martin, a first-year medical student, also said he doesn’t think the Legislature should determine whether marijuana should be used for medicinal purposes, but he supports using marijuana as a potential form of treatment.

“It should be up to proven medical research,” he said. “If there is a benefit to be had from it, it should be available to be used.”

Martin said the decision should be made between a doctor and a patient, and should be handled as it would be with other medical treatment.

“A matter of principle shouldn’t really enter into a doctor and a patient trying to set the best course of therapy for a particular disease or condition,” he said.

If passed, qualified users will be able to use marijuana in their homes and at least 500 feet away from schools and churches, Murphy said.

Minnesota would be the 13th state to pass this type of bill.

Andy Mannix is a senior staff reporter.