A bipartisan group of lawmakers will join patients to outline both House and Senate bills Thursday to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota.
Advocates from Minnesotans for Compassionate Care said a debate will wait until the 2014 session, but they hope laying provisions out on Thursday will propel the bill to the forefront of next year's session.
The bill would allow the use of medical marijuana when prescribed by a doctor. The drug would be supplied at the sole distribution center found in each county -- but only for certain conditions.
Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) is introducing House version of the bill, and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) is introducing the bill in the Senate.
A release from Minnesotans for Compassionate Care said both bills have the maximum number of sponsors allowed in each chamber.
"Nearly two-thirds of Minnesota voters agree it is time to adopt legislation that allows seriously ill people to use medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help treat their conditions and ease their suffering," said Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.
It's a proposal that's been heard in Minnesota before. Then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a medical marijuana bill passed in 2009 due to opposition from law enforcement. As long as the state's officers continue to stand against it, Gov. Mark Dayton said he will oppose it as well.
Yet, advocates who rallied at the Capitol on Thursday spoke passionately about how the drug could help improve the quality of life for those who are suffering.
"I saw with my own eyes that medical marijuana works," said Joni Whiting of Jordan, Minn.
Whiting watched as her daughter, a young mother who suffered a painful death from melanoma, found comfort in the final days of her life.
"My daughter wore her pain on her face," Whiting recalled.
Yet, Whiting also said that marijuana helped take Stephanie Stradinger's pain away and that's why she stood with a group of lawmakers hoping to legalize marijuana for medical use. For one lawmaker, the issue is also a personal one.
"Maybe some of you know that my wife is terminal at this point," said Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar). "It's all about quality of life."
He's not alone in his support either. A new survey by Public Policy Polling in Minnesota shows a 65 percent approval of using medical marijuana, with broad support in nearly every age group. In fact, the poll even indicates support in greater Minnesota, although the highest support was seen in the Twin Cities.
However, state law enforcement has largely been against medical marijuana, fearing illegal use -- but lawmakers say their bill would not create a cannabis free-for-all.
"I think this is going to be one of the most restrictive laws in the country," said Melin. "It's going to be highly regulated."
The bill would require a doctor's prescription, an identification card issued by the Department of Health, and use would be restricted to patients with the following conditions:
- Crohn's disease
- Hepatitis C
- Multiple sclerosis
- Other conditions causing debilitating pain and nausea
Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and buzz has circulated in about 10 other states.