Gov. Mark Dayton's medical cannabis task force includes staunch opponents and supporters
Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton named 16 people to a task force that's responsible for evaluating the state's medical cannabis program. The list is a mixed bag, including eight healthcare providers and four members of the public -- but also four opponents from the law enforcement community.
None of them have been content to sit on the sidelines. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, for instance, once wrote an op-ed calling cannabis "the most dangerous illegal drug in our nation," and reaffirmed that position last November, mocking the use of the term "medical."
At first glance, Dayton's list of appointees -- as ordained by the legislature -- didn't inspire much confidence from the advocates who've spent months, in some cases years, fighting for change in the state's cannabis laws.
"These are people who think this is not medicine in the first place, and who advocated against it as an illegal substance," says Brandan Borgos, a MN NORML board member and Independence Party candidate for attorney general. "I want people who are advocating for patients."
For this task, Borgos and others are putting faith in an unlikely ally -- Dr. Charles Reznikoff.
In April, Reznikoff published the results of his own survey, which suggests that doctors in Minneapolis know very little about cannabis. Of the 117 HCMC physicians who participated, only 13 said they were ready to weigh the risks/benefits of the plant for their patients, and only 32 supported the program in the first place.
Dr. Charles Reznikoff
Reznikoff concluded that "marijuana is not a good medicine, but neither is it a terrible poison. Yet I oppose medical marijuana strongly on the grounds that it subverts our normal process of medicine..." He's since softened his position -- mostly against his will.
We asked Reznikoff if he's still opposed to medical cannabis, and he fired back, "That's like asking, 'Are you opposed to medical morphine?'" The law is the law, he explains, and it's not his place anymore to pass judgment. His new task is to make sure cannabis is treated like any other form of medicine, and treated honestly -- which means listening to every side of the table.
"Bring on law enforcement," the doctor says. "We'll disagree on somethings, and agree on other things. I'm just hoping that's a constructive process."
As does Duane Bandel, a gay-rights activist who's living with HIV and concerned primarily about the cost of the program on low-income folks, as well as the thousands of patients who were excluded from the program. Bandel is one of four "consumer members" on the task force that includes two parents of sick children.
"I do agree that law enforcement should have a voice," he says. "I'm not quite sure it should be an equal voice to the people who would actually be using medical marijuana."
The task force is supposed to meet by August 1, with seats for four members of the legislature and heads of the departments of health, human services and public safety.
Click through the next page to see the complete list of appointees, with some notes of our own.