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Students aim to legalize medical marijuana

The group is working to add a question to the November 2004 ballot about legalizing medicinal marijuana in Minneapolis.

More than a dozen University students are collecting signatures in hopes of putting the issue of medical marijuana before Minneapolis voters.

The group must gather 7,774 signatures from eligible Minneapolis voters by August to get a referendum on the November 2004 ballots, said Aaron Marcus, a third-year law student and drive leader.

With enough signatures, the group will push to add a question asking voters if the City Council should be allowed to distribute, license and oversee a medicinal marijuana program to approved patients in the city.

The group kicked off the campaign Thursday and Friday by collecting more than 200 signatures in Coffman Union and the Law School. Organizers plan several more signature-gathering events.

Marcus called last week’s collection a great start to a campaign that will target many areas around campus and in Minneapolis.

“Just by being out here we’ve really improved our visibility already,” Marcus said.

The group’s members come from organizations such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Going for the signatures was not the first choice for organizers who wanted to change the state law.

The group first looked to the Legislature, but since 1995, several medical marijuana bills have failed there, Marcus said. Then the group began to consider developing an ordinance change in the Minneapolis city charter.

Marcus spoke with nine City Council members but received little support. Marcus also discussed the issue with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak but left the meeting without any support on the issue, he said.

The group’s next route was to hit the sidewalks and talk with citizens to see whether the issue was something they would support.

With enough signatures, the group must submit its work 12 weeks before the election to the Minneapolis Charter Commission for preparation.

If more than 50 percent of Minneapolis voters decide in favor of the question, the city charter will change, making medical marijuana legal in the city.

If the group has enough supporters, medical marijuana use will still be several steps from legal.

First, the City Council will determine if the question to legalize medicinal marijuana should be placed on the ballot, law professor Fred Morrison said.

And with medical marijuana use illegal in Minnesota, state lawmakers would also have to pass legislation allowing medical marijuana use by prescribed patients. Without a state law amendment, the new Minneapolis law on medical marijuana could not be legally implemented.

Ten states have passed laws allowing marijuana use for medical purposes such as alleviating pain because of medical conditions including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

If Minneapolis voters pass the possible city charter amendment, Marcus said, it would send a message to state lawmakers about citizens’ stance on the issue.

State Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, has sponsored

multiple bills at the State Capitol to legalize medical marijuana use. Of the bills, Hausman said, one has been discussed in committee hearings.

Hausman said watching those bills die year after year makes her feel it will likely take a strong citizen-led movement – such as the signature-gathering campaign – to get lawmakers’ attention.

“There has to be more pressure from the public to be able to debate issues like this,” she said. “In so many ways, our policies around the issues of drug use and drug abuse are flawed. I think this is just one of those issues.”

The group plans to extend its signature-gathering campaign in January to University residence halls and throughout Minneapolis next year.

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