Medical marijuana: A politically risky vote?

Legislation that would allow the medical use of marijuana by chronically and terminally ill patients was sent to the Minnesota House floor Wednesday, setting up a prolonged floor debate and a politically sensitive vote in the final weeks of the legislative session.

The Ways and Means Committee approved the bill on a 13-4 vote. Backers don’t expect the final House vote to be so lopsided, but that it will squeak through and go to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has all but promised a veto.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, chief House sponsor, acknowledges that in an election year when all House members must run, it could be a tough vote for some of his colleagues.  “Sure, it could be used against you,” he said. Incumbents who support the bill could face charges by opponents suggesting they are soft on drugs.

Not to worry, said Tom Lehman, a lobbyist for health care organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project and Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. Twelve states have passed medical marijuana laws and no legislator in those states has ever been defeated for his or her vote on that particular piece of legislation. “That’s fact,” said Lehman. “It’s a good vote in an election year.”

‘Great opportunity for abuse’
But law enforcement and county prosecutors don’t like the prospect of licensed dealers selling pot based on medical prescriptions written by doctors. “It’s just poor policy to begin with,” said Harlan Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association. It is estimated 5,200 non-profit agencies eventually would be licensed in Minnesota to dispense medical marijuana. “There’s a great opportunity for abuse,” he said.

Johnson’s association is joined in opposition to the legislation by the Minnesota Sheriffs Association, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. Those organizations can be influential during political campaigns, endorsing candidates and making their positions public.

And those organizations have Pawlenty’s ear, according to Michael Campion, the governor’s commissioner of Public Safety. When law enforcement changes its mind, the governor will consider supporting the legislation. “He hasn’t changed his position since last year,” Campion said following Wednesday’s committee vote.

Lobbyist Lehman still holds hope he and others can convince the Republican governor to sign the bill. “There’s bipartisan support that stretches across Minnesota for allowing patients and physicians to make treatment decisions,” he said. So signing the bill would be popular with a majority of Minnesotans, according to Lehman, a political plus for a governor who many expect will run for a third term in 2010.

It also would be a political plus if Pawlenty were to become the vice presidential running mate of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to Lehman, “especially if you’re a conservative who’s running on the principle that physicians and patients should make [health care] decisions, not government.”

Backers of the bill don’t purport that smoking marijuana cures any disease. But they say it provides relief from pain and nausea and can stimulate appetite. The legislation would allow pot to be grown under controlled conditions which would include licensing and inspection.  It would be available to a limited number of chronically ill through prescriptions from doctors.

This is the second consecutive year the bill has been considered by legislators. Last year, the measure was approved by the full Senate. It also had several hearings in House committees where advocates testified for it. “Some of the people who came last year have died already,” Rep. Huntley said Wednesday.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 04/10/2008 - 10:30 am.

    Given Gov. Pawlenty’s hyperaggressive use of his veto powers, legislation to mandate quality standards for dental floss would be just as risky a vote.

    This year Republicans will rip Democrats over ANY vote the GOP thinks gives them traction. I was born Republican but have little stomach for the overwhelmingly negative jihadism of the modern Republican party’s Christianist buffoonery.

    Letting cancer patients smoke marijuana? What possible harm could come of this other than letting terminal patients evade a small part of the pain that dominates their lives.

    Where in the Bible does it say “Thou shalt not smoke pot”? And what part of individual freedoms and rights is served by the war on drugs?

    Pass this bill, and then, when Pawlenty vetoes it, override his vice presidential aspirations. And while the lege is at it, they should, for the duration of the RNC, restrict metro area bar hours to 5 pm – 9 pm as payback for any veto of medical marijuana. If cancer patients can’t get high, why should RNC delegates be allowed to get drunk?

  2. Submitted by Cavanaugh Cavanaugh on 04/10/2008 - 11:28 am.

    The Drug War has been a failure. It has caused FAR more problems than it has solved.

    And it’s unconstitutional. When they wanted to outlaw alcohol, they had to make a Constitutional Amendment. The government has no authority to outlaw marijuana in the first place.

    The Drug War should be abandoned.

  3. Submitted by Barb Jacobs on 04/10/2008 - 01:39 pm.

    Budget-deficit begone idea: slap a “user fee” on the sensimilla. Voila, two problems solved!

  4. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 04/11/2008 - 07:18 am.

    If those supporting medical marijuana are being called “soft on drugs,” why aren’t those opposing it being called “soft on pain and suffering?”

  5. Submitted by Judy A. on 04/11/2008 - 12:21 pm.

    Earlier this year, the American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest medical specialty organization in the United States, representing over 124,000 members, released a historic position paper calling for:

    1. Legal protection for medical marijuana patients.
    2. Reconsideration of marijuana’s federal classification as a Schedule I drug (banned for medical use).
    3. Expanded Research. The American College of Physicians (ACP) publishes the “Annals of Internal Medicine,” the most widely cited medical specialty journal in the world. The ACP joins the following national and international medical organizations in supporting IMMEDIATE ACCESS TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA:

    American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Medical Student Association, American Nurses Association, American Preventive Medical Association, American Public Health Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, Arthritis Research Campaign (United Kingdom), Australian Medical Association (New South Wales), Limited Australian National Task Force on Cannabis, Belgian Ministry of Health, British House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, British House of Lords Select Committee On Science and Technology (Second Report), British Medical Association, Canadian AIDS Society, Canadian Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Dr. Dean Edell (surgeon and nationally syndicated radio host), French Ministry of Health, Health Canada, Kaiser Permanente, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, The Montel Williams MS Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis Society (Canada), The Multiple Sclerosis Society (United Kingdom), National Academy of Sciences Institute Of Medicine (IOM), National Association for Public Health Policy, National Nurses Society on Addictions, Netherlands Ministry of Health, New England Journal of Medicine, New South Wales (Australia), AIDS Action Council, AIDS Treatment News, Parliamentary Working Party on the Use of Cannabis for Medical Purposes, Dr. Andrew Weil…

    And that’s the very small list.

    “The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents… Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy … and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with ‘scientific support’ … fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others” William F. Buckley, Commentary in The National Review, April 29, 1983, p. 495

  6. Submitted by Judy A. on 04/11/2008 - 02:42 pm.

    Here are a couple excerpts from the American College of Physicians’ position paper on medical marijuana:

    “A clear discord exists between the scientific community and federal legal and regulatory agencies over the medicinal value of marijuana, which impedes the expansion of research.”

    “Evidence not only supports the use of medical marijuana in certain conditions but also suggests numerous indications for cannabinoids…The science on medical marijuana should not be obscured or hindered by the debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana for general use.”

    Here’s the link/web address to the whole paper from the American College of Physicians:

    http://www.acponline.org/acp_news/medmarinews.htm

    And here are a few state organizations SUPPORTING IMMEDIATE ACCESS TO MEDICAL MARIJUANA:

    Alaska Nurses Association, Being Alive: People With HIV/AIDS Action Committee (San Diego, CA), California Academy of Family Physicians, California Nurses Association, California Pharmacists Association, Colorado Nurses Association, Connecticut Nurses Association, Florida Governor’s Red Ribbon Panel on AIDS, Florida Medical Association, Hawaii Nurses Association, Illinois Nurses Association, Life Extension Foundation, Medical Society of the State of New York, Mississippi Nurses Association, New Jersey State Nurses Association, New Mexico Medical Society New Mexico Nurses Association, New York County Medical Society, New York State Nurses Association, North Carolina Nurses Association Rhode Island Medical Society, Rhode Island State Nurses Association, San Francisco Mayor’s Summit on AIDS and HIV, San Francisco Medical Society, Vermont Medical Marijuana Study Committee, Virginia Nurses Association, Whitman-Walker Clinic (Washington, DC), Wisconsin Nurses Association…

    Please help end the lies!

  7. Submitted by Judy A. on 04/11/2008 - 07:48 pm.

    Should our lawmakers consider the History, Science, and Ethics surrounding Medical Marijuana, before they decide on the medical marijuana bill?

    Or should they consider only the perceived risk to their careers?

    Even if Minnesota’s lawmakers don’t give a flying hoot about their sick and dying constituents — or for that matter, Science and History — a vote in favor of MEDICAL marijuana is the right POLITICAL thing to do, for several reasons:

    1. Polling across the U.S. has consistently shown that the majority of Americans support access to medical marijuana and DO NOT support the federal war on patients and their physicians. And with the medical support growing stronger each day, this positive trend toward understanding and acceptance of medical marijuana will increase.

    2. Contrary to much of the media’s sensational, “FEAR sells” coverage of medical marijuana, there really is BROAD medical support for medical marijuana from many of the most prestigious medical organizations and societies in the world.

    Do our lawmakers want their positions to be at such odds with the American College of Physicians, the National Institute of Health, the American Public Health Association, the British Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, etc…?

    3. Winds have already shifted. With FDA-approved medications emerging as a leading cause of death in the U.S., people are looking for non-toxic medication options to treat diseases like cancer, AIDS/HIV, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, etc…

    Tens of thousands of patients across the U.S. are demanding MEDICAL access to cannabis, because of its efficacy at treating a myriad of disorders AND BECAUSE OF ITS REMARKABLE SAFETY PROFILE, far superior to most FDA-approved medications.

    Too many people know about the 70+year Marijuana Lie. The cat is out of the bag, for good this time.

    4. Legacy. Do our lawmakers want to be remembered as a new generation of Dunces, hostile to History and Science? Or do they want to be remembered as intelligent, caring representatives of their people, capable of critical thought and compassion?

  8. Submitted by Judy A. on 04/12/2008 - 04:50 pm.

    One last thing.

    From the article: “It is estimated 5,200 non-profit agencies eventually would be licensed in Minnesota to dispense medical marijuana. ‘There’s a great opportunity for abuse.’ — Harlan Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association

    Just curious, how did the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Assoc. generate the 5,200 figure? Is there a source for this Math?

    Sure, California has a LOT of not-for-profit and for-profit agencies involved in some aspect of MEDICAL marijuana; but the other MEDICAL marijuana states — like Maine, Colorado, and New Mexico, for instance — have probably less than 10 not-for-profit or for-profit agencies a piece (and most of these agencies are advocacy and legal support organizations, NOT organizations distributing MEDICAL marijuana).

    A link to the study that generated this figure would be helpful. 5,200 seems quite misleading and just a tad “chicken little-ish,” given how few agencies exist in all of the MEDICAL-legal states, except CA.

    5200 agencies don’t spring up over night, like mold.

    Instead of “The Russians Are Coming,” we now have “the MEDICAL marijuana agencies are coming, in the THOUSANDS, to kill you and your families. Hide the children!”

    Enough of the hysteria. Has this lobby looked at ANY objective, credible sources regarding the history and science of cannabis as a MEDICINE?

    If Gov. Pawlenty is putting the Police in charge of Medicine, then it seems prudent the Police begin to study up! Long way to go, after basic first aid.

    please end the lies!

  9. Submitted by Jake Heisenberg on 05/15/2009 - 12:31 pm.

    If you do decide to pass this law in your state it needs to be written so seriously ill patients are the only people getting it. Here in Ca there is wide spread abuse of the system where anyone can get it for any reason what so ever. The largest group of doctors in CA called MediCann Inc give the permission to use medical marijuana to anyone who comes in and i mean anyone. This includes children ages 2-17 yes I said a 2 year old was given medical marijuana and pregnant women. All this without following the proper procedures. It is a scam out here basically people in CA were duped by prop 215 so to think that seriously ill people would get marijuana and this is just not the case. Follow the link below to see what a joke it is in CA. ABC channel 7 did a investigative story on MediCann and look what they found out!!!!!!!!\

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/video?id=6802524

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