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MN medical marijuana plan set to advance

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ST. PAUL — Amelia Weaver gets a legislative hearing for her eighth birthday today.

Her parents, Josh and Angie of Hibbing, hope it is a happy birthday for their daughter with Dravet syndrome, which causes frequent seizures. Today’s hearing could be a big step to allow using parts of the marijuana plant to control those seizures, as well as other serious medical conditions in people of all ages.

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The House rules committee takes up the medical marijuana issue, which has been stalled in another committee for weeks as law enforcement organizations, prosecutors and some doctors opposed it.

What supporters call a compromise bill emerged Thursday and the committee will consider it today, with the prospects of moving the issue to a full House vote next week.

“It’s real help for families,” Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said in announcing the revised bill.

The new measure bans smoking marijuana, but allows use of compounds from the plant in liquid and pill form. It also allows the plant to be used in a water vapor system.

Keeping smoking out of state law allowed law enforcement to stay neutral on the issue and prosecutors to consider abandoning opposition.

Melin’s bill would allow marijuana use in doctor-run tests to treat conditions including seizures, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.

Melin said some conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain, are best treated by smoking marijuana, which would not be allowed under her bill.

The prime lobbyist behind medical marijuana said the Melin bill will help no one.

Heather Azzi of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care said doctors will not prescribe marijuana because that would violate federal law and endanger their licenses.

“This legislation will not provide any medication,” Azzi said.

A more liberal Senate version that allows smoking and carries Azzi’s blessing continues to move through the committee process. If the bill by Sen. Scott Dibble, D-Minneapolis, passes, that would set up House-Senate negotiations to work out differences between the two bills. Once negotiations conclude, the House and Senate each would vote on the new measure.

Even with differences, progress was evident Thursday when House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, and Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, appeared with Melin in announcing the compromise bill.

Thissen worked with law enforcement organizations and Gov. Mark Dayton’s office in an attempt to ease their concerns. Dayton repeatedly has said he will not sign a bill without law enforcement and medical provider support.

On Thursday, Dayton released a statement saying he needs more information before deciding if he can support the Melin bill.

“The bill places heavy new responsibilities on the Minnesota Department of Health, and I have asked Commissioner (Edward) Ehlinger to assess the costs of its implementation and its practicability,” Dayton said. “I also want legal counsel to assess the potential liability to the state from sponsoring such trials.”

Angie Weaver said her family will move to a state that allows medical marijuana if Minnesota does not approve it this year.

“Amelia can’t wait any longer,” Weaver said.

Jeremy Pauling of Montevideo said his family, too, is desperate to help his daughter, 7-year-old Katelyn.

“If I have to crawl through a minefield, I will do it,” he said.

While Pauling said he wishes the Melin bill would include smoking to help more patients, he said he is happy that it could help children like Katelyn with seizures.

The bill would allow clinical tests, conducted by doctors or the state Health Department.

Melin said parents of children suffering seizures could opt out of a test that would compare results from children taking a placebo with those taking liquid from a marijuana compound. Adults would not have the choice, and would be placed in tests that involve placebos for some of the participants.

Under Melin’s bill, the state would hire a company to make the marijuana medicine by year’s end, and patients could begin using it in mid-2015.

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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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