Medical marijuana expert met privately with MN policymakers to discuss legalization

Dr. Steven Jenison speaking in Iowa about New Mexico's medical marijuana program, two months before coming here
Minnesota may be closer to legalizing medical marijuana than anyone realizes.

At a press conference earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated his opposition to medical marijuana and argued that "objective information" was needed in the debate, seeming to slam the door shut.

But a couple weeks later, some legislators and public health advocates met privately with Dr. Steven Jenison, the first director of New Mexico's medical marijuana program, to talk about the potential challenges of implementing a similar program here.

SEE ALSO: When will medical marijuana be legal in Minnesota?

The questions raised over the course of two days provided a window into the thought-process of Minnesota policymakers. Chief among the concerns was whether enough safeguards could be put in place to keep the supply of patients out of the hands of healthy adults and children.

"Really," Jenison says, "the program is going well and it seems to be benefiting the people for whom the legislature and governor intended -- people who are suffering severe, debilitating conditions who have not derived relief from more conventional treatments."

The number of patients who've been approved for New Mexico's program is about 10,000, and the way their medication has been handled is no different than painkillers, Jension says. As a physician who also chaired the state's medical marijuana advisory board, he acknowledges there are legitimate concerns about, say, the relationship between marijuana and early onset of Schizophrenia.

The plant should not be perceived as a cure-all, he adds, and the law of New Mexico doesn't make such a bold claim. What it says about marijuana is much simpler.

"If your experience is that you derive benefit, and other medications have failed you, then you shouldn't be criminally liable," Jenison says.

The late January meetings were organized by Heather Azzi, the political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, and included two of Dayton's advisers. As of late, the governor has played both sides of the debate -- promising to veto anything that doesn't have the support of law enforcement while suggesting that he's open to signing a bill, provided that a study of other state's programs came back positive.

"We have 20 examples now from which to draw," Azzi says, "and New Mexico happens to be one that's fairly close to the one proposed in Minnesota."

Azzi should know: she wrote the medical marijuana bill that could be debated at the committee level as soon as next week. For instance, the qualifying conditions of patients and low-profile dispensaries here would be similar to the ones in New Mexico. What's more, the ability to grow your own supply would require a license, and a great deal of control would be put in the hands of the state's department of public health.

Dave Renner, a legislative strategist for the Minnesota Medical Association, which lobbies on behalf of physicians, also attended a meeting. He says it was an opportunity to gather facts about the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine because a lot of evidence thus far has been anecdotal.

"It's hard to get data," Renner says. "It's hard to do a double-blind study when you have a product that is officially illegal in the eyes of the federal government."

The association takes no position on medical marijuana but has a policy forum scheduled for early March in which members can offer their opinions on the current legislation. There's a good reason why the example of New Mexico is being pushed here over the example of California, which has comparatively broad and lax regulations.

"My sense is it would be easier to pass New Mexico's law than it would be to pass California's law in Minnesota just because of the additional oversights," Renner says.

Multiple sources tell us Minnesota public health commissioner Edward Ehlinger and two of Dayton's advisers also met with Jenison, though they did not return our messages seeking comment.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to

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Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson

It looks like he's about to eat a hotdog.


Minnesota and New Mexico don't have the initiative process where voters can petition to change the law directly.   Therefore we must depend on professional politicians to write legislation.   Since professional politicians are afraid to defy the powerful bullies of the county attorneys association and police special interests lobby, we can't make progress in Minnesota.  

New Mexico had passed the first state medical cannabis law in the 1970's, thanks to a determined cancer patient named Lynn Pierson--a law later rendered a dead letter by federal obstruction.  More recently, NM adopted its restrictive statute under the leadership of Governor Pete Richardson, who had more courage or maybe more principles than Mark Dayton does.  

 Even under the restrictive NM law, 10,000 patients receive cannabis for medical use--about 1/2 of 1% of the population.   That would be over 25,000 people in Minnesota being BLOCKED from medical treatment under doctors' supervision---because the cops don't want ANY relaxation of cannabis prohibition for fear of losing the subsidies they get from Washington and the forfeiture money they get from confiscating property from cannabis users.   

It's like living under the Inquisition.   And although the DFL has supported medical marijuana in their platform since 1992, that platform isn't worth the paper it's written on.   This year, vote Grassroots!

DavidFoureyes topcommenter

The hot dog that dude is talking into looks super good right now...the munchies suck, man.


@kathyschnell In Minnesota there once was a political party known as the Farmer-Labor Party.  They elected Governors and U.S. Senators and Congressmen.  The Farmer-Labor Party was the most successful workers' party in American history, but it never reached beyond Minnesota.  The Democrats were a feeble third party.   By 1944, however, Minnesota Republicans were back in power.  The Farmer-Labor Party and the Democratic Party merged their organizations into one combined party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, in order to unify the state behind Franklin Roosevelt, who was running for re-election and whose supporters thought merging the two parties would carry the state for him.    Since that time, the name Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has been abbreviated as
DFL.   Politically nowadays they're simply the state Democratic Party.   In North Dakota, the Democratic party is attached to the ghost of the Nonpartisan League--another old midwestern radical group.

  Too much information.    Aren't you sorry you asked?

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