Feature: Medical Marijuana at the Statehouse -- Stalled in St. Paul, Progress in Providence, Coming Out in Columbus

State legislatures are once again proving a formidable hurdle for the medical marijuana movement. In the last two weeks, legislation died for lack of action in the Minnesota Senate, and while the Rhode Island Senate passed a dispensary bill, it is unclear whether it will make it to the House floor. But hope springs eternal, as evidenced this week in Ohio, where the first medical marijuana bill in years was introduced.

Rhode Island Senate chamber
In Minnesota, a bill that would have legalized medical marijuana in the state, SF 345, died this week because of inaction on the House floor. The bill had passed the state Senate last year, the first year of the state's biannual legislative session, and passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee on a 13-4 vote earlier this month.

But it never got to a floor vote in the House before the session ran out. Supporters blamed the House leadership and the opposition of some sectors of law enforcement, which could not be pleased no matter how many changes to the bill -- 19 -- supporters made to assuage their fears. The bill also faced a likely veto from Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"We're disappointed that the Minnesota legislature failed to enact a medical marijuana bill this year," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, the parent group for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, which led the lobbying fight to pass the bill. "But we've seen in other states that the legislative process often takes several years, and we picked up incredible support this year, including the endorsements of the state's two largest newspapers. The dozens of brave patients who came forward to tell their stories in recent months aren't giving up, and neither are we."

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, the state Senate approved legislation May 15 that would create "compassion centers" or dispensaries where patients enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program could legally obtain their medicine. Under the bill, S. 2693,the dispensaries could legally grow and sell marijuana to the 359 patients in the state medical marijuana registry. The dispensaries would be regulated by the state Department of Health.

The legislation would create licensed marijuana dispensaries, or "compassion centers," that would legally grow and sell the drug at affordable prices to the 359 patients in the state's program. The centers would be regulated by the state Health Department.

But despite strong popular support and a 29-6 vote in the Senate, the bill is not expected to get through the House this year, the Providence Journal reported. It cited opposition in the House.

"I would really have to have a sock over my head if I didn't know that," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Providence). "What I think is important is to show movement," Perry said of the Senate vote. "I think getting it out of a chamber is movement. It's showing that there is a level of understanding and a level of acceptance," she told the Journal.

How patients would get their medicine was "the unasked question" when the state's medical marijuana law was passed, House Majority Leader Gordon Fox told the Journal. "Do you send someone that may be suffering from cancer or whatnot out into the streets to procure it? I don't know if that's necessarily a good solution. I think the natural extension of that is that we provide some sort of safe place to obtain it for those who are legally authorized."

But Fox declined to support the bill just yet. "I'm not saying that the leadership's going to support it," he said. "I'd like to read the bill. I haven't looked at what the bill does."

While the Journal has pronounced the bill dead, that's a bit premature, said Jesse Stout, spokesman for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition (RIPAC). "The House leadership hasn't said they're not going to vote on it, so we're working with them to try to schedule it," he said. "We still have another month left in the session."

Stout was confident the measure would pass if it got to a floor vote. "We have a lot of rank and file support from House members who favor this common sense expansion of the law, and we have a new poll that shows popular support for this measure at 69%. We have lots of support, so this is by no means over," he said.

While the legislative process has been long and torturous in Minnesota and Rhode Island, it is just getting underway in Ohio. On Wednesday, state Sen. Tom Roberts (D-Trotwood) announced details of his proposed Ohio Medical Compassion Act during a press conference at the state capitol in Columbus. Under Roberts' bill, the state Health and Agriculture Departments would be authorized to set up an advisory board to:

  • Consider granting medicinal use of cannabis in cases of debilitated medical conditions.
  • Consider applications for and renewals of registry identification cards for qualified patients and primary caregivers.
  • Provide recommendations for the safe use and efficient growing of medicinal cannabis.

"Our laws should reflect the latest in medical research, which has shown that medical cannabis has a variety of benefits for treating pain, nausea and other symptoms related to a wide range of disease," Roberts said in a prepared statement. "In an era of scientific breakthroughs and medical advances, patients should not be put in the position of choosing between living a normal life and living a healthy life," Roberts said.

"We took what we thought was the best of other medical marijuana laws and created this bill," said Tonya Davis, director of advocacy for the Ohio Patient Network. Davis, a chronic pain sufferer who is unable to walk, was optimistic about the bill's prospects. "This time around we have a cosponsor and more support in the Senate than ever before," she said.

For Davis, access to medical marijuana is a quality of life issue. With medical marijuana, she can reduce her reliance on other medications, she told the Wednesday press conference. "I require medical marijuana to maintain a lifestyle with dignity," Davis said.

The Ohio bill will likely face the same long and twisting legislative path that medical marijuana has followed in any number of statehouses. Whether it becomes law this year seems unlikely, but experience has shown that getting bills through is typically a multi-year process.

And that's something to remember in Minnesota and Rhode Island, too, not to mention other states, such as Illinois, New Jersey, and New York, where bills are active this year, said MPP's Mirken. "I understand the frustration, but we've seen before that it typically takes several years to get medical marijuana passed. Elected officials by and large still think medical marijuana is more controversial than it is. It's never easy," he said.

Still, said Mirken, time and the angels are on the side of the movement. "There is no question the historical tide is with us. It's just that sometimes it moves more slowly than we would like."

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Democrats Kill Med MJ in MN

It's unfortunate that you point out that a Republican governor in MN would 'likely' have vetoed a bill that the majority party (read Democratic) failed to put on his desk in spite of the overwhelming support among their base voters. Time and again Republicans are blamed for their opposition, and Democrats are given a pass, as in the article above. GOPher

borden's picture

Not sure what

Dear GOPher:

Almost all of the Minnesota portion of the article was about how the House and Senate didn't move on the bill. Only one sentence of it was about the Republican governor, and that sentence was based on factual information. If you're implying that the article should have pointed out that Democrats are in the majority in the House and Senate, that's something we'll consider for future articles. But the article clearly did not lay things solely at the feet of the governor, nor did it say anything about Republican legislators. Also, I think the likelihood of a veto is critically important, because it creates a real disincentive to move a bill along when one has other bills on which one can focus.

Lastly, a review of our archives shows that we have on many occasions pointed out the bad things Democrats have done in drug policy or the good things they have failed to do. (But Democratic readers don't seem to complain when we do that, interestingly.)

David Borden, Executive Director
StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC

Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood?

If Minnesota's law enforcement lobby is deciding such vital public health policy (medical marijuana), are doctors now in charge of law enforcement?

They protect our streets, so they have a say

They are the ones who have to deal with on a daily basis the violent cancer patients under the influence of medical marijuana. They see the destructive impact this has had on families in our communities. So they have a say as expert witnesses.

what happened?

Was it really the Dems who killed it in the end? It is difficult getting any sense of what happened, as the MN media is, of course, not covering the bill's death.

It seemed like this bill was damned from the beginning, for less than honest reasons, and all the players and decision-makers knew it. Was it just a dress rehearsal?

But of course, I don't really have a clue, because MN's media hasn't said anything about why/how this bill was side-lined.

Plenty of Pawlenty

Even if the Senate and House had passed a MMJ bill, Governor Tool would have vetoed it anyways, and I don't think there's enough votes to override the veto. It's blatantly obvious that Pawlenty is owned lock, stock, and barrel by Big Pharma. The only way we'll get MMJ in Minnesota is to vote that damned corporate sock puppet out of office...


The Hells Angels are selling drugs 2 houses over from Me, and the CIA is backing them up across the street. IT IS TIME TO BRING SANITY TO THE WAR ON DRUGS, and LEGALIZE Marijuana and DECRIMINALIZE ALL OTHER DRUGS.

Yeah right


I think keeping heroin and other drugs in the hands of criminal gangs is at least as dangerous as allowing them to control the marijuana market.

I don't usually post

I love coming here and reading from all over this site. As I am sure the site owner loves to see us comment on posts and such. Though if we took half the energy that was put in here and actually went out and talked to people I think reform and change could possibly come faster.

Here is to no more special interest groups! I'm off to fight for everyones liberties, not just my own.


I don't know why I'm

I don't know why I'm E-mailing to you we've tried everything and no one will listen.We have begged for help around here but no one seems to care.We live in a small town called McDermott,Ohio where if you want drugs name it,you want someone to come up missing or killed just say it.And nothing is done about it. Our law enforcement is worse than the little peeons doing the job as they call it .You'll never know how many people we have missing and like I said no one CARES. I wish God would just come back and take us all out of here.It's ashamed that we should have to think that way .But no one cares about any one anymore.Just stop and think if it was your child what would be done? Thank You so much for at least reading this.

Please Leaglize Medical Marijuana

You know I have smoking marijuana for a little over 40 years. I here peple say we don't know much about marijuana, but we stick what thousands maybe millions of people in jail for either posessing or selling and even smoking a marijuana cigarette.In the 40 years I have been smoking,there is nothing I could not do or a time I could not function. The reason that most states do not want to legelize marijuana is either because they have never tried it, and are just going by what others say. Or they just dont really care . Come on if they don't mind loosing 3000 children a day to beer and such and 6000 a day to cigarettes,Why would it make any sense to the Goverment or the state to pass something that doesn't kill people. In the forty years I have been smoking I have never seen or heard of anyone diying from marijuana by its self ,ever. I have lost hundreds of friends from pharmicutical drugs and achihoul or liquer and I'm sure you have to, plus for the last fifteen years I have had 27 heart attacks 6 bypasses 13 heart caths and was given a year to live feb 2009 and thanks to marijuana I live a life everyday more pain free than I do when I do drugs from the doctor with out the addicttions. Oh and by the way I have quit marijuana several times in the last forty years for drug tests because of Jobs and never had any problems. And again the ones who says they do has probaly never really smoked to began with. Any way please leaglize Marijuana. Do what you know is really right America don't let us suffer any more.

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