Legislature debates legalizing medical marijuana

Editors Note: This story is part of a six-part series covering bills that have historically failed in the state Legislature but are still reintroduced year after year.

The debate over legalizing medical marijuana has returned to the state Legislature for the ninth time since 1999. Last session, a medical marijuana bill passed the Senate, but the House didnâÄôt vote on it before the session ended. This session, both the House and the Senate are debating bills that would legalize the use of medical marijuana for use by patients diagnosed with a short list of debilitating conditions. That list includes cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, TouretteâÄôs syndrome and other conditions approved by the Minnesota Commissioner of Health. The bills specify that qualifying patients would be able to receive a permit to possess up to 2.5 ounces of useable marijuana, and grow up to 12 plants from the Minnesota Commissioner of Health after receiving a doctorâÄôs recommendation and a background check. Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing , the chief author of both the 2007 Senate bill and this yearâÄôs bill, said the issue of medical marijuana had been brought to the Legislature several times by other legislators, but none of those bills went anywhere and were all voted down by committees. Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, is one of the House co-authors of the bill, and said he supports the legalization of medical marijuana because he believes the number one indication of a bad law is when it makes essentially good people into lawbreakers. Buesgens said when his mother was dying of cancer last year she tried a number of things to treat her pain and loss of appetite. He said he would gladly have become a lawbreaker to provide her with marijuana if she had wanted him to. Murphy said this yearâÄôs bill provides tight regulation and should avoid the problems created by less specific medical marijuana laws in states like California. For example, under the new bill, any person who transfers their possession permit or medical marijuana to an unauthorized person would be guilty of a felony , while under current state law, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor. One of the main criticisms of the medical marijuana bill last year was that it didnâÄôt provide regulations that were specific enough. Murphy said the billâÄôs main opponents in the law enforcement community havenâÄôt come to talk to him about ways to improve the bill, but have just shown up at the committee hearings to bad mouth it. James Franklin, the executive director for the Minnesota SheriffsâÄô Association, said the law enforcement community is worried about regulatory issues, but the associationâÄôs main concern is the ethical dilemma of telling officers not to enforce a federal law. If the issue with the federal law was taken care of, he said, his association would be more open to discussing specific stipulations âÄî like centralized production âÄî for a stronger bill. Murphy said the bill has a good chance of passing in both houses of the Legislature this session, but is worried about the governor vetoing it. Gov. Tim PawlentyâÄôs spokesman Brian McClung said in an e-mail that the governor stands with law enforcement in opposition to the bill. H.F. 292 is scheduled for a hearing before the HouseâÄôs Public Safety Policy and Oversight Committee on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. in room 10 of the State Office Building.