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Medical marijuana bill advances

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By CHRISTOPHER SNOWBECK, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — The long and winding road for medical marijuana in Minnesota continued Friday as a Senate health committee voted in support of a legalization bill.

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Advancing on a 7-3 vote, the bill received bipartisan support and opposition, as well as amendments intended to appease critics.

The ultimate fate of the legislation remains in question, although it is expected to be taken up by two more Senate committees next week.

Due to concerns voiced by law enforcement groups and physicians, Gov. Mark Dayton last month proposed more research into medical marijuana rather than giving patients access to the drug. But patient advocates argued that studies alone won’t help — in part because they can’t move forward easily due to federal regulations.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Friday he expects medical marijuana legislation to get a floor vote in the Senate this session, although he still hopes for a bill that won’t be opposed by law enforcement groups.

“I have asked the authors to try and work with law enforcement and get it — mitigate their concerns to the extent that we can, knowing that we’re probably not going to be able to mitigate all of them,” Bakk said. “But to the extent we can get it in a position where law enforcement might be neutral is kind of an ideal situation.”

Whether that’s possible is unclear, Bakk added.

The bill from Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, would permit patients with certain health conditions up to 2½ ounces of usable cannabis from a state-licensed dispensary. Doctors would have to certify that a patient might benefit.

The state Health Department would issue identification cards to qualifying patients. Dibble’s bill would let patients smoke marijuana, whereas the sponsor of similar legislation in the state House offered to not allow smoking in her version as a compromise.

“What we’re hoping to achieve is allowing seriously ill patients to access medical marijuana … under a very limited basis, under a fairly strict regiment,” Dibble said at the outset of Friday’s hearing.

The committee approved a lengthy amendment put forth by Dibble to improve standards for those who would operate dispensaries and provide more regulatory authority to the health commissioner. The bill also was amended to include a study on the evidence for medical marijuana, but only after a lengthy debate.

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