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Marijuana available for medical uses in Minnesota, but illegal

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ST. PAUL — Minnesotans who want marijuana to ease pain and deal with other medical conditions already can get it, Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday.

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However, he quickly added, buying pot on the street is illegal, and he does not endorse it. In a conference call with reporters, he said possessing a small amount of the drug could bring a fine about the same cost as a traffic ticket.

“I am not advocating anybody do whatever it is that they do,” Dayton said. “I am just trying to point out reality.”

Dayton added: “The fact is that you can go out in any city in Minnesota, I am told, and purchase marijuana.”

He also said there are long odds against passing a bill this year allowing marijuana to be used to help relieve intense pain, reduce seizures and help sick Minnesotans in other ways. However, he said, he has ordered his commissioners and staff to work toward a compromise yet this legislative session.

Bill sponsor Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said she worries about Minnesotans buying pot on the street for medical conditions.

“That is really dangerous for patients,” Melin said. “Marijuana you buy on the street, you don’t know what it is laced with. ... I don’t think that any patient in Minnesota should have to turn to the black market and street crime.”

The representative said Dayton’s comment undermines the bill.

Even if people do have access to marijuana now, some patients, such as those with seizures, are not helped by smoking. Seizures are eased by a liquid that contains chemicals from marijuana, Melin said.

The governor cut off his nearly hour-long conference call because representatives of a group supporting legalizing marijuana for medical use were to visit him. He accepted a few representatives of the group, even though he is homebound, has not appeared in public lately and is in a partial body cast following hip surgery.

Medical marijuana supporters gathered in front of the governor’s official state residence with an oversized get-well card.

“You took action to relieve your pain,” the card read. “Will you take action to relieve ours?”

“Gov. Dayton needs to stop kowtowing to law enforcement and stand up for seriously ill patients and their families,” said Heather Azzi of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. “Doctors are the ones who should decide what medicine is best for their patients, not police officers.”

Since the medical marijuana issue arose, Dayton has said he will support a bill only if a deal can be worked out with law enforcement groups that oppose it. While some in the law enforcement community say they could back a measure that allows a chemical from marijuana to be used in a liquid or pill, negotiations on the issue have failed.

“When Gov. Dayton elected to have surgery to ease his hip pain, his decision was guided by trained medical professionals, not trained law enforcement professionals,” Azzi said. “He should explain why he is taking orders from police officers to prevent Minnesotans with cancer, epilepsy and other devastating conditions from following their doctors’ orders.”

Melin earlier this week pulled her bill from consideration, at least temporarily, because there was no deal with law enforcement groups.

Her bill would allow patients to get a doctor’s permission to use marijuana. Melin has said she is willing to consider amending her bill to restrict use to using marijuana in a water vapor instead of smoking it.

“What constitutes vapor vs. smoke, I’m too old to understand that,” Dayton told reporters.

Dayton talked about a column three of his commissioners wrote emphasizing that most drugs go through extensive federal research before being allowed.

Melin said the column was the first she heard of any opposition like that from the Dayton administration. She said the administration did not testify against her bill during a health and human services committee hearing earlier this month.

“I’m caught a little off guard,” she said.

The lack of marijuana medical research and law enforcement’s opposition “would make me very reluctant to legalize marijuana,” Dayton said.

Melin said her bill will remain stalled until there is a compromise.

“We’re not going to push a bill forward that is not going to get signed into law,” she said.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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