Medical marijuana bill passes first test with signs that law enforcement is mellowing

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Coleen Danger
Maria Botker throws her arms forward and droops her head, mimicking, in slow-motion, the way in which her seven-year-old daughter wilts daily. She calls the worst of these "drop seizures."

The Botkers live a fragmented life between Minnesota and Colorado so they can get access to Charlotte's Web -- a strain of marijuana that, when ingested as an oil, has been shown to control epilepsy and help children like theirs regain cognitive functions.

"This is not the way we want to live," Botker says.

She was speaking Tuesday before the House Health and Human Services Committee, whose members heard nearly three hours of testimony from a doctor, a pastor, caregivers, and patients, including Andrew Johnson, Pat McClellan, and Joni Whiting.

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

By the end of the night, the committee had approved a bill introduced by DLF State Rep. Carly Melin that could legalize medical use of marijuana through state-regulated dispensaries. The bill has several more stops through the committee level before reaching the legislature and possibly the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton.

The shadow of the state's top cops and prosecutors hung over Tuesday's hearing, even though the scope of the testimony was limited to the medical efficacy of marijuana. A handout that circulated around the room -- and bears the name of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition -- suggests that the biggest opponents of the bill are ready to talk.

The handout urged lawmakers to strip the bill of language allowing some patients to grow their own supply and to limit qualifying conditions to "seizures, late stage cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or AIDS." (See the whole thing on page 2.)

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State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen
Several of the points on the handout would later come out of the mouth of Republican State Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, who proposed an amendment that would restrict the use of medical marijuana to extracts -- liquids, pills, vapor, and injection (whatever that means). Such concessions, he argued, would go a long way to bring law enforcement on board.

Gruenhagen's amendment was shot down, but not before Autumn Leva of the MN Family Council got in her two cents about the dangers of the plant.

"This is still a highly addictive, mind-altering drug," she says. "This bill sends entirely the wrong message to our youth."

The committee disagreed, and the bill easily passed their review. But you can expect a tougher battle at later committee hearings, including the one addressing public safety concerns.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to jmarx@citypages.com


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