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Statewide law-enforcement groups not budging on medical marijuana bill

Officials say it would be wise for Minnesota to wait to see what happens in other states, such as Colorado.

A bill to be considered during the 2014 legislature would allow one medical marijuana dispensary per county and sets forth conditions for prescribing, licensing, growing and dispensing the marijuana.
REUTERS/Anthony Bolante

When the Minnesota Legislature convenes in February, it will once again take up a longstanding debate on the legalization of marijuana for people with serious illnesses.

A medical marijuana bill cleared the Legislature in 2009, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Carryover bills from 2013, authored by Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) in the House and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) in the Senate, await their first hearings in the 2014 session, which begins Feb. 25.

In a Dec. 30 interview with the Associated Press, Gov. Mark Dayton encouraged proponents of medical marijuana to collaborate with state law-enforcement agencies on moving forward with any legislation, and said he would “sign something that the law-enforcement community can support.”

But in interviews this week, representatives of statewide law enforcement groups held their ground in opposing the legislation.

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“Our position has always been that we’re not in favor of another drug becoming available on our streets here in Minnesota and affecting public safety,” said James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association. “We just don’t see that it’s appropriate for Minnesota quality of life.” Franklin said it would be “wise for Minnesota to sit back” and watch what happens in such states as Colorado.

His sentiments were echoed by other law-enforcement leaders, including John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

“We see the devastation that marijuana and other illegal drugs have caused,” he said. “We need to have some time to see how this is happening in other states.” Medical marijuana “is ending up on my kid’s college campus in Fargo, North Dakota, and that tells me it’s not very tightly regulated.”

2.5 ounces allowed

The proposed legislation would allow qualifying patients to possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana for the treatment of debilitating conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Tourette’s syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease, or any condition or its treatment that produces wasting syndrome or severe pain, nausea, seizures, or spasms.

The number of dispensaries allowable per county would vary by size, with Hennepin County having as many as three, three counties having two, 45 counties having 1, and the rest having none. The proposed law sets forth conditions for prescribing, licensing, growing and dispensing marijuana. A person who intentionally diverts marijuana for nonmedical purposes would be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years and/or a fine of not more than $3,000.

Dibble said he had received a communication Thursday from Dave Pecchia, executive director of the Minnesota chiefs of Police Association, saying that the state’s Law Enforcement Coalition was willing to meet with legislators only (not witnesses), and that its position against the law had not changed.

“In their own words they have closed the door and their minds to a) hearing from people who are actually affected, and b) considering any elements of the bill or discussing the substance of the legislation that causes their opposition so that a path could be opened for possible compromise,” Dibble said.

A public-policy standoff

In formal statements issued in 2009 statewide law-enforcement associations outlined their general reasons for opposing medical marijuana and their specific concerns over the proposed legislation, including the risk of diversion, increased risk of drug abuse and “threats to the safety of patients, caregivers, growers, innocent third parties and the general public.”

Dibble said of law enforcement: “I don’t think they’ve provided a single argument that isn’t completely fallacious.” For example, he said, claims “that anyone would be able to access marijuana for any purpose is just blatantly false. The bill is written very, very tightly.”

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The law-enforcement statements further argue that marijuana has not been approved for use by prominent national health organizations.

That’s no reason not to move forward, said Dibble, who argued that there’s plenty of evidence to support the drug’s efficacy for such things as controlling pain, nausea and seizures. “It is unconscionable that we let people suffer the way we do when there’s something out there that might be available to them – if we can do it in this controlled fashion,” he said.

Correction

This article originally misstated the number of dispensaries allowable per county. It will vary depending on population size, with Hennepin County having as many as three, some counties (with more than 300,000 people) having two, some counties (with more than 20,000 people) having one, and some (with fewer than 20,000 people) having none, for a total of about 54.