Debate centers on cops' concerns and patients' pain
The Minnesota Senate voted 36-28 on Wednesday to approve the use of medical marijuana in the state, clearing the way for final passage of the bill and setting up a potential showdown with Gov. Tim Pawlenty over the issue.
The bill allows cancer and AIDS patients and others suffering from debilitating illnesses to, with a doctor's approval, grow up to 12 plants or possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. It would provide photo IDs to patients and regulate nonprofit marijuana dispensaries.
While the issue has been debated at the state Capitol for almost a decade, Senate sponsor Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the new bill does much to keep the law from being abused.
"You're not getting this because you got a hangnail, you're not getting it because you got an earache, and you're not getting it because you've got a sore back," Murphy said.
Pawlenty's position has been to stand with law enforcement in its opposition to the bill. Several senators raised concerns that it would lead to an expansion of drug trafficking and other criminal problems.
Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said she understands the reasons behind the bill. "But the modus operandi for producing it, I think, is just full of pitfalls," Olson said.
While 13 states have medical marijuana laws, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, and efforts to pass a law here have a record of failure. Supporters, however, see hope because the Obama administration recently said it would not interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
The bill still must pass through two House committees before a possible floor vote there.
The debate on the Senate floor was unusually personal.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, spoke in strong opposition, drawing on his law-enforcement background. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, read letters from former drug abusers.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, was one of two Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. He spoke of his mother's death from thyroid cancer and said he wished she'd had the option to ease her pain and suffering.
"As you go through your life, everything that happens in your life molds you into who you are as a person," Koering said.
Murphy, meanwhile, ridiculed law-enforcement concerns about the bill, calling them "reactionary" and saying they refused to meet with him about the bill. He said law enforcement offered similar doomsday scenarios during past Capitol debates about Minnesota's conceal-and-carry laws, which haven't materialized.
"These are the same claims that came from our brothers and sisters in blue, who once fought our conceal-and-carry bill," Murphy said. "The cops told us there was going to be this return to the wild West here in Minnesota."
By Jason Hoppin
April 30, 2009