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The clock is ticking

ST. PAUL — A bipartisan group of lawmakers will try to negotiate a compromise on medical marijuana legislation in the coming days.

The state Senate voted Tuesday not to concur with legislation passed last week by the House, calling instead for the appointment of a conference committee.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis and lead author of the Senate’s bill, was appointed by the Senate to the committee along with Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, and Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover.

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing and lead author of the House’s bill, was appointed by the House along with Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

Dibble’s bill would make medical marijuana available to certain patients through a network of at least 24 dispensaries. Patients would need a physician’s recommendation, and an ID card issued by the Minnesota Department of health.

The House bill would have the Health Department select and regulate one marijuana manufacturer that would operate up to three pickup centers.

A smaller number of patients could participate, and would be enrolled in a research registry.

Each chamber passed its own version of medical cannabis legislation last week with large majorities. Lawmakers must adjourn by Monday, which means the clock is ticking.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia already have laws creating comprehensive programs for patients to access medical marijuana. The issue has been pushed to the forefront in Minnesota and other states this year by families seeking access to medical cannabis for children with severe seizure disorders.

Children take marijuana in a liquid form, and families say the treatment is superior to traditional pharmaceuticals that offer little relief and have significant side effects. Similar concerns have prompted lawmakers in seven states this year to create laws that provide limited access to a form of medical marijuana that’s thought to help with seizure disorders.

The House bill provides medical cannabis to patients with seizure disorders and seven other diagnoses. The Senate bill essentially covers the same eight conditions, but also would help patients with intractable pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe nausea and wasting syndrome.

Neither bill allows patients to smoke marijuana, while both bills would let patients use cannabis in the form of liquids and pills. They differ when it comes to vaporization of marijuana — only the Senate bill would let patients vaporize marijuana plant materials, whereas the House would only let patients vaporize liquids and pills.

Gov. Mark Dayton said this week he prefers the House bill in part because it would not let patients use marijuana in whole plant form. In a letter issued this weekend, Dibble argued that vaporizing plant materials provides patients with a more effective treatment at a lower cost.

Dayton said he prefers the House bill’s more limited approach to marijuana distribution because the supply could be better controlled and directed to those for whom it is intended. Dibble countered that the House bill would force patients to drive hours for treatment and would create a “monopoly manufacturer.”