U grads, Minneapolis group petition to legalize medicinal marijuana

The group needs about 8,000 signatures to get the issue on the city council ballot.

Lacey Crisp

Former University students are petitioning in Minneapolis to legalize medicinal marijuana.

The Minneapolis group, Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction, will bring the petition to the City Council on Tuesday to decide how the measure will be worded on the November ballot. Minneapolis voters will then decide if they want to legalize medicinal marijuana.

The amendment to the city charter would only take effect if state legislators approve the distribution of marijuana at the state level. City approval is one of many steps needed to legalize medicinal marijuana.

“People need to know that medical marijuana is not an issue about people using marijuana,” said Aaron Marcus, a University Law School graduate and president of the Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction group. “It is about getting the help that people need.”

The group needs approximately 8,000 signatures to get the issue on the ballot. They have about 10,000, and are hoping to get more this weekend at the Uptown Art Fair, Marcus said.

The group’s efforts have raised awareness of medical marijuana, he said.

“The sole goal is to reduce pain for sick people and help them get through their lives,” Marcus said. “When you punish people for being sick, that is a great injustice.”

Marcus said a key reason for legalizing medical marijuana is to support patients’ rights and allow them to get the help they want.

“It should be a free choice between a doctor and the patient,” Marcus said.

The group has received support from the community and policymakers such as state Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, Marcus said.

“My brother died of cancer, and the marijuana treatment worked well for him to limit the nausea,” said Kahn, who represents the University and surrounding areas in the State Legislature.  

Kahn said she signed the petition and hopes it gets on the ballot because Minnesota is far behind in passing progressive medical legislation.

Jason Samuels, a former University student, has been working on drug policy for five years and is the administrative coordinator for Citizens Organized for Harm Reduction.

“Our short-term goal was to send a message to state legislators to get the ball rolling on medical marijuana bills,” he said.

Samuels said there are nine states that have medicinal marijuana laws, and he said he hopes Minnesota is next.

“None of the proposed bills have even been heard in the committee,” Samuels said. “We are informing people so that a bill can be heard in 2005.”

Samuels said if the amendment passes, a regulatory committee would set up the details of where patients would go for prescriptions and insurance coverage.

University law professor Bradley Clary said he is skeptical of a change in the law.

“I don’t think those documents ought to be used as vehicles to debate current matters of social policy,” Clary said.

Clary said because drug use is already a problem, adding a policy to legalize drugs might enhance the problem.

University psychiatry professor Ken Winters said he has mixed feelings about legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

He said it is not clear that scientists have done enough research on medicinal marijuana or synthetic versions of marijuana.

“But there are a lot of barriers to scientists wanting to study it, so it’s largely still an unanswered question.”

Winters said there are also some safety concerns regarding marijuana.

“It has addictive properties, even though there is a debate about withdrawal syndrome not being as valid for marijuana as for other drugs,” Winters said.

Legalized Pot
States where some form of medicinal marijuana is legal:

Alaska
California
Colorado
Hawaii
Maine
Nevada
Oregon
Vermont
Washington

Source: July 2004 report, www.medicalmarijuanaprocon.org