House DFLers announce medical marijuana deal, but details displease some supporters

Minnesota House leaders say they’ve reached a new compromise on clinical trial medial marijuana bill that has support of many advocates and no opposition from law enforcement.

But the new deal has caused factions among longtime community supporters, since not everyone qualifies for the studies the proposal outlines. What’s more, senators have been moving at a quick pace with a much broader proposal, and Gov. Mark Dayton is still reviewing the bill to determine if he can offer his support.

Under the scaled-back deal announced Thursday afternoon by House DFL leadership and bill author Carly Melin, the state would set up a medical marijuana clinical trial for children and adults suffering from a select list of illnesses. That means anyone suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette Syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s, seizures and epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and severe and persistent muscles spasms like Multiple Sclerosis can be enrolled in a trial by their practitioner.

Parents with children under 18 can opt out of being given a placebo in the trial, Melin said.

The deal would allow delivery of medical marijuana in a liquid oil pill or in vapor form under the supervision of a practitioner. The bill would allow a single in-state manufacturer contracted through the Department of Health to distribute medical marijuana for the studies.

The idea originally came from Dayton’s office back in March, when he pitched the Mayo Clinic enter into a clinical trial. At the time, medical marijuana advocates opposed the study because there was no state-allowed source for the marijuana — the federal government hasn’t assisted with other such studies around the country. The new deal also allows vaporization in the study — Dayton’s solution did not.

There would be no smoking of medical marijuana in the bill, a key component that kept law enforcement, and thus Dayton, from supporting Melin’s original bill. 

“I appreciate the efforts being made to develop a bill that offers hope to children and adults suffering from horrible diseases,” Dayton said in a statement. “The bill places heavy new responsibilities on the Minnesota Department of Health, and I have asked Commissioner Ehlinger to assess the costs of its implementation and its practicability. I also want legal counsel to assess the potential liability to the State from sponsoring such trials. I will need that information before making any decision.”

“This is something that [the governor’s office is] taking very seriously and looking at very seriously,” House Speaker Paul Thissen said. “They are looking at it.”

Said Melin, “It’s by no means the perfect approach that will result in as many people getting helped as the original bill was, but we know we have some families in Minnesota that really have some imminent needs. We have some families that have already relocated to other states to treat their children.”

Illnesses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and intractable pain wont qualify for the trial under the new bill. Advocates from Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, the lead group pushing for medical marijuana this year, says the deal doesn’t go far enough and studies could take years. They plan to continue pushing for the Senate proposal working through committees.

Under the bill from Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, patients would be allowed to access up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for certain medical conditions. That bill moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. 

“I don’t like that some people are being left out,” Melin said. “That’s the way things work around here, we compromise to get things done.”

The proposal will be taken up in the House Rules Committee Friday morning, and could get a vote on the House floor as soon as next week. Melin anticipates the new deal will get broad support from legislators.

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