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Medical marijuana: Let compassion and medical science chart Minnesota’s course

Despite Senate passage, House committee approval and majority support by Minnesotans as evidenced in opinion polls, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has repeatedly deferred to law enforcement on the topic of medical marijuana.

Despite Senate passage, House committee approval and majority support by Minnesotans as evidenced in opinion polls, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has repeatedly deferred to law enforcement on the topic of medical marijuana. Whenever a decision could improve the lives of people with serious medical conditions, people tend to be on board; it’s no surprise that Minnesotans want to help our sick and dying. No one wishes to see another human being suffer. Too many of us are either dealing with the loss of a friend or family member due to illness or coping with it ourselves to see a reason to withhold medicine from a person. It is odd at best that Pawlenty has not cited any medical experts and their opinions when he states there are “other alternatives” to treat medical conditions. Police officers and prosecutors are not medical professionals.

When a law-enforcement expert, former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper, testified on how crime has NOT gone up as a result of medical marijuana in Washington state, and teen use had actually gone DOWN in this same time frame, the Minnesota officers in attendance at the hearings quickly went to work in an attempt to discredit Stamper’s expert testimony.

To date, the objections of law enforcement against Minnesota’s proposed medical marijuana law   have had little to nothing to do with the legislation itself, and they have failed to meet with lawmakers to make changes that would supposedly make their jobs easier. Instead, their main objection has been: “It will send the wrong message to kids.”

The real message
The message being sent right now is that the government will not allow proper research to take place to prove or disprove claims of medical benefit. Patients are caught in a Catch-22 in which the Drug Enforcement Administration controls medical research of cannabis and will not allow expanded efforts to find medical applications. Scientific and anecdotal evidence continues to mount in countries where the research is allowed.

We tell children that medicine is to be used under a doctor’s care and not to be abused. This issue is no different. Law enforcement may find it difficult to backtrack on the message that they have been sending to kids under “DARE” programs all these years. But a little awkwardness should not be a reason to withhold medication from people who see benefit. The message must be consistent, and should be based on scientific facts and medical evidence. We don’t want kids taking Oxycodone either, but it has a distinct role and application in medical treatment despite its addictive nature and potential for overdose. Locking up your medicine cabinet should be phase one in keeping drugs out of the reach of children and ensuring their safety. Medical marijuana is no different.

Law enforcement also states that crime will go up if medical marijuana were allowed. With 13 states allowing medical marijuana, if this were true, I believe citizens would be calling for the repeal of said laws. Instead, many of these 13 states have actually expanded their medical marijuana programs. Forcing patients to buy their medication on the street is one sure-fire way to ensure that criminal elements may benefit monetarily from the sick and dying. Allowing patients to purchase their medication from a nonprofit organization makes sense. Law enforcement goes beyond reason to suggest that criminals would break into these “compassion centers” to steal the medication; if a pharmacy with a myriad of narcotics can peacefully exist, so too can a compassion center.

Abuse of law would be a felony

Further objections by law enforcement contend that their jobs will be impossible to accomplish if patients are registered with the state and carry identification cards. With a database of approved medical marijuana patients, compassion centers established to get their medication from, and identification cards for patients to carry, it is difficult to identify why this would complicate the jobs of law enforcement. Abuse of the medical marijuana law would carry a serious felony charge. Since 1976, marijuana possession has been a misdemeanor offense in Minnesota. We are one of 13 progressive states that have not made marijuana possession a serious offense or law enforcement priority. We’ve already been living with some of the most relaxed marijuana laws in the nation in case you haven’t been aware of it. The “doomsday” scenarios painted by law enforcement just have not panned out, and allowing registered patients access to the medication their doctor deems beneficial will do nothing to change the public safety landscape of Minnesota.

Laws that prohibit impaired driving are already in place, and are applicable to medical marijuana patients. Many pharmaceutical drugs expressly state that patients are not to drive while taking them. Dispensaries in other states already place such warnings on the medical marijuana they sell. Furthermore, consumption in public places of medical marijuana would not be allowed. The law would do nothing to change clean indoor air laws in place.

Law subject to sunset provision

Moreover, a two-year “sunset” provision has been added to the law. If problems arise (13 states have shown that there are not problems), there will be a method to address them.

I urge Minnesotans to contact their representatives and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to ask for their support of medical marijuana in Minnesota. You or your loved one may not need this legislation at present, but one day you might. Having all tools necessary for patients and doctors to combat serious illness just makes sense, and law enforcement has not raised any objections that deal with the actual proposed legislation. Pawlenty has also failed to raise objections based on medical research or expert medical testimony.

Lawmakers make laws. Law enforcement enforces the laws. Citizens are expected to follow the laws. When the law places you in the position of choosing to be law-abiding or help a loved one to lessen his or her suffering, the law in unjust, cruel and unusual. Minnesota’s seriously ill are stuck in the middle of partisan politics. Let compassion and medical science chart our course.

Mike Wyatt, of St. Paul, is a Crohn’s disease patient.