Medical marijuana bill clears senate health committee hurdle

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Sen. Scott Dibble speaks with reporters following a medical marijuana hearing
A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota passed a health committee Friday with an amendment calling for a health impact study.

The study mirrors a recent compromise offered by Gov. Mark Dayton and his staff but would be conducted alongside the proposed medical marijuana program rather than in place of it.

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Three senators fought hard to defeat the bill as it now stands, including Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont). She pushed to delay the start date of the program until the study could be completed, arguing that there were still too many questions about the medical efficacy of marijuana and too many concerns coming from law enforcement officials.

"I feel it would be irresponsible for us to move forward," she says, adding: "Everybody is not at the table yet."

Two weeks ago, the committee heard the concerns of Minnesota public health commissioner Ed Ehlinger. Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), the bill's author, returned to the committee Friday with tightened restrictions that would make our medical marijuana laws one of the toughest -- if not the toughest -- in the nation.

For instance, patients could not use in public places, or in front of children, and caregivers with felony drug convictions would be disqualified from the program. Dibble believes the concerns of law enforcement and public health officials have already been addressed in the bill.

"If we were to pass this proposal, it would become a model, the gold standard, for the rest of the country," Dibble says.

He was joined by Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona physician who pointed out that the Mayo Clinic in her home state has already created a best practices guide to medical marijuana that includes things like dosage. What's more, she said the Arizona health department was willing to provide research conducted over the last four years. In 2010, voters in Arizona approved pot as medicine against the wishes of policymakers.

"We have a medical marijuana program that people are not afraid of anymore," Sisley says. "The sky hasn't fallen in these twenty states that have laws on the books."

Dibble's bill was approved 7-3 with Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) and Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center) also objecting. It's moving quickly with just three weeks left in the session -- to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Monday and the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.

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



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