A bill that would allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana passed the Minnesota Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee on a bipartisan 8-3 vote Wednesday. The bill, SF 97, would allow patients or designated caregivers to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to 12 plants.
"I believe this will be the year medical marijuana becomes law in Minnesota," said Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing), a sponsor of the bill. "We've seen now from the experiences of 13 states -- one-quarter of the country -- that these laws work well, and that the dire warnings of opponents simply don't come true. The voters understand that there is no reason to subject suffering patients to arrest and jail for using a doctor-recommended medicine."
The vote came after testimony from patients and family members, including Joni Whiting of Jordan, Minnesota. A Vietnam War veteran, Whiting told the committee she had strongly disapproved of marijuana until her daughter came down with melanoma and began to suffer nausea and pain from chemotherapy.
"I was opposed to marijuana," Whiting said, "but the nausea my daughter suffered from the chemotherapy was so bad she lost a lot of weight, and the pills the doctor prescribed didn't help -- including Marinol, the THC pill. Marijuana allowed her to eat and also helped ease her pain, and she looked better than I'd seen her in months. I would have rather spent the rest of my life in prison than have denied her the medicine that kept her pain at bay and allowed her to live 89 more days."
"I'm pleased to coauthor this important legislation that will empower doctors and patients while protecting sick and dying Minnesotans from the threat of criminal prosecution," said Sen. Debbie Johnson (R-Ham Lake). "Most FDA-approved drugs assist in managing short-term pain. Chronically ill and terminal patients need alternatives. Medical marijuana is one of those alternatives."
Not everyone testified in favor of the bill, and some opponents went to extremes in their testimony. "This bill would allow 18-year-old boys to grow marijuana in their homes without any outside supervision," said Tom Pritchard of the Minnesota Family Council. "My reading of the bill says it would prevent landlords from regulating the growing and use of marijuana on their premises. This bill would allow marijuana dispensaries to set up shop across the state, in homes and storefronts on main streets and neighborhoods and apartment buildings. Why? The only reason I can see is that it is to legitimize, frankly, the broader acceptance of marijuana in the community's eyes."
Not exactly. Under the bill, if an 18-year-old bill is suffering from one of the designated conditions, he, like any other adult, may grow his own medicine. But while juveniles may also use medical marijuana, only their parents can grow it. The bill does not require landlords to allow medical marijuana grows; it prohibits discrimination against people who use medical marijuana. The bill does provide for tightly-controlled, nonprofit "registered organizations" to grow marijuana for multiple patients.
Pritchard wasn't the only critic, nor even the most unreasonable. James Stinziani, who described himself as a member of the "Lyndon LaRouche operation," told the committee medical marijuana was simply a stalking horse for drug legalization pushed by front groups paid for by billionaire George Soros. "What is happening here -- if anybody is familiar with George Soros -- he is pretty much supporting and funding the major drug operations in the United States."
But the legislators weren't buying the fulminations and conspiracy theories. Now, it's on to the next hurdle, and the hurdle after that. Even if a bill passes the legislature, it faces the opposition of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), whose veto threats last year stalled a bill then.