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Session surprise: Medical marijuana bill passes

After years of hearings, a highly restrictive medical marijuana bill, which previously had been passed in the Senate, passed in the House Monday evening on a vote that showed some issues aren’t partisan.

Most expect that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will veto the bill, despite the fact polls have shown has the support of most Minnesotans.

On the last night of a long, contentious session, the bill also had the support of a broad coalition of representatives, ranging from populists such as Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, to Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, who is one of the most conservative pols in St. Paul.

But opponents also crossed the political spectrum. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, was perhaps the most outspoken foe, but DFLers such as Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, also opposed the legislation.

Though legislators had spent most of their passion during battles to override Pawlenty vetoes, the marijuana bill did create some sparks, especially among foes.

<strong>Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano</strong>
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano

Emmer, for example, tried to add an amendment to the bill that would have changed the term “marijuana” to “pot.”

“Let’s call it what it is,” Emmer said, angrily. “Pot!”

Rukavina, the bill’s sponsor, responded with a putdown.

“Your amendment might be cute,” Rukavina said, “but I have to say the testimony on this bill was very powerful. At times, I think you’re pretty cute. But this isn’t one of them.”

“This is no joke,” Emmer stormed. “Call it what it is. It’s pot.”

Long debate followed, before the House passed the bill, 70-64.

Because the previously passed Senate version was amended on the House floor – an amendment that limits the use of marijuana to the dying – the bill was returned to the Senate, where it passed, 38-28, a higher margin than it had enjoyed previously.

Powerful testimony

How did a bill that in some form or another had been around since the 1980s sail through this time?

In part, there was the powerful testimony of people such as Jonie Whiting of Jordan. Earlier in the session, she’d told legislators of the last months of the life of her 26-year-old daughter, Stephanie, a mother of three.  She was dying of cancer, but her mother said, she was going to die of starvation before the cancer could kill her.  No traditional cancer treatments were allowing her daughter to take nourishment.

“I’m a child of the 1960s,” Whiting said, as she stood outside the House chamber before Monday night’s vote. “I’m squeaky clean, but my beautiful daughter was in agony. I went to her and said we were going to try marijuana. But I didn’t know where to turn. I called everybody I knew and left messages, ‘Do you know where I can get marijuana?’ The next morning, I got up and there was a pound of marijuana outside our front door.”

Laughing, she recalled that after her daughter’s death, she threw the leftover marijuana down the garbage disposal.

“I was afraid if I threw it on the yard, it might grow,” she said.

But very seriously, she said, the marijuana allowed her daughter to have 89 days – including Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2002 – to enjoy meals and have a decent quality of life before dying.

Whiting was filled with gratitude about the legislative action, but filled with doubt, too.

“I’m afraid this governor won’t do the right thing,” she said. “But I would hope he’d listen to the people. If I could talk to him, I’d say, ‘What crime is compassion?”’

Christopher DeLaForest, a lobbyist who supported the bill, says it’s presumptuous to assume Pawlenty will veto the bill.

“He’s assured people that he’ll give it careful consideration,” DeLaForest said.

Certainly, if Pawlenty looks at what happened in Michigan, where use of medical marijuana was on the ballot in November, he’ll want to consider the bill closely. Rukavina said that the bill passed in every Michigan county won by Republican presidential candidate John McCain and was even more popular than Barack Obama in counties carried by Obama.

“It just makes sense to people,” Rukavina said.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/19/2009 - 09:55 am.

    I dunno. It’s pretty dangerous. If we start letting the terminally ill have marijuana to make their last days easier, in a wink of the eye kindergartners will be smoking reefer on the playground, and there won’t be a darned thing we can do to stop it.

    Everybody panic.

  2. Submitted by Luke Hosfield on 05/19/2009 - 10:52 am.

    Cheers Joel. Do they really think this is dangerous? I am more concerned about getting hit by a drunk driver on a morning commute. What I would like to know is who is in charge of enforcing the terminally ill part of the law. Is it not all just up to what your doctor thinks is appropriate or does one have to prove they are dying to the state?

  3. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/19/2009 - 01:31 pm.

    Luke, I don’t know what they’re thinking; I’ll just take them at their word. I like Tom Emmer, and agree with him on other things, so I’ll do him the courtesy of assuming that he means what he says and that he says what he means on this issue . . .

    . . . and that he’s more worried about the possibility of some unauthorized euphoria than he is about relieving the agony of dying people.

    This saddens me.

    I’m not at all concerned with the terminally ill part of the law; far as I’m concerned, if somebody with an MD wants to sign off on a patient, I’ll leave that to the patient and her doctor to work out.

  4. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/19/2009 - 01:32 pm.

    Oh, and just to add on: worrying about unauthorized euphoria is a sympton of NannyStatism, and it doesn’t look any better on Republicans than on DFLers — the DFLers, generally, have more practice dressing up in Nanny Drag and wear it a little better.

    But not much.

  5. Submitted by Mike Wyatt on 05/19/2009 - 01:54 pm.

    As someone who would have qualified under the legislation as it was originally intended with my Crohn’s disease, I am deeply saddened by the “terminal illness” amendment which was added. I fear that even terminal patients will not have access now to the medication.

    Given that non-profit businesses/dispensaries were to be established to serve the qualifying patients, I can’t see how they could survive based solely on a dying customer base? Who is going to roll the dice to set up such a business? So now where do the terminal patients get their marijuana? On the streets. Nothing changed with the passage of this version of the legislation, I fear. Pawlenty may veto it still. Don’t give him a pass if he signs it. His lack of leadership on this issue forced lawmakers to try to “guess” as to what he might sign, and it didn’t matter if the resulting law would actually help people as it was intended. I hope lawmakers realize that this legislation now really does not help anyone. I don’t want to seem like I am bitter because my disease was excluded from the law, but I honestly don’t think this bill now helps ANYONE. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re told your pain and suffering are not “worthy.” It’s a tough day today. Very disappointing.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/19/2009 - 05:15 pm.

    I’m all for the legalization of marijuana, but I can’t endorse this kind bill.

    “Medical marijuana”? Ease pain? Please; you want to get stoned.

    This is the same sort of dishonest, end-run, deny the truth tactic that the left uses to BS the public about all of the nastier parts of their agenda.

    If you want legal weed, say so and leave the BS at 255 E Plato Blvd.

  7. Submitted by George Hayduke on 05/19/2009 - 08:42 pm.

    If we’re going to leave the BS on Plato Ave., we can start with Mr. Swift’s. As usual, he’s so far off the mark he’s hardly worth responding to. But I will anyway.

    You dismiss the testimony of those who have been relieved of their suffering by smoking pot? You’re calling them liars, Mr. Swift? You dismiss the commenter with Crohn’s disease–he’s a liar too? He just wants to get stoned? Listen, pal, anyone who wants to get stoned in Minnesota ain’t waiting around for legalization. They’re doing it now, and in large numbers, and will continue to do it. The only thing your pathetic position will do is make criminals out of people who are suffering–and who really don’t care about getting stoned. They just want their suffering eased.

    So don’t go looking to stoners as your excuse to be your usual ugly self. They’ll get stoned with or without the approval of the state. Or yours. Just remember the people on their deathbeds, or suffering needlessly, who can’t eat or feel normal (or NORML) because Swiftee and his ilk doesn’t want them to catch a buzz along the way. I hope that makes YOU feel good.

  8. Submitted by Richard Steeb on 05/19/2009 - 09:40 pm.

    To keep Cannabis illegal while tobacco and alcohol are dispensed freely is murderously stupid.

    Only ignorance and bigotry stand in the way. Get a clue, Emmer:

    Any questions?

    San Jose California glaucoma patient.

  9. Submitted by Luke Hosfield on 05/19/2009 - 11:59 pm.

    I would like to respond to Joel’s comments. This bill is far from legalizing pot for most Minnesotans. Nor do I think it is a step toward legalization because as long as our youth get stoned and forget to vote and our elderly show up in large number, you have nothing to worry about my friends.
    Also, have you forgot that these pharmaceuticals, such as morphine, also have an euphoric effect. The only reason you claim it is an “unauthorized” euphoria is because of social connotations and because “someone else said so”. Indeed, morphine is derived from opium. (what heroin is made of) Plus, morphine and vicodin tend to suppress the appetite, while marijuana increases appetite.

  10. Submitted by Joel Rosenberg on 05/20/2009 - 10:23 am.

    Luke: chill, and read what I wrote. I don’t care about unauthorized euphoria, really, and it doesn’t matter why I claim it is “unauthorized euphoria” because it’s unimportant whether or not it is.

    Just to be explicit: I’m in favor of legalizing marijuana with or without a prescription, and I’d rather just give up on the whole stupid War on Some Drugs because I think it’s preposterously counterproductive. You don’t have to sell me on this bill; you had me at “Rukavina.”

    And it’s not because I want to use the stuff. I don’t; it can lead to cigarettes, and I’m having one hell of a time giving those up. Okay?

    Sheesh. Where’s Brauer when we need him? He can often recognize irony and sarcasm when he’s clubbed over the head with it, and sometimes even when not.

  11. Submitted by M Grier on 05/20/2009 - 09:25 pm.

    I thought our Governor was Republican (pro tax base) oops. Then I thought our Governor was Libertarian (pro-freedom) oops. Is our Governor a Democrat (care for the poor and our troops?) nope.

    Minnesotans are willing to pay their fair share and support freedom. How come the Governor doesn’t get it?

    Oh yes, because the “base” doesn’t want to pay taxes.

    God bless America. Someone please tell the Governor that we do not live in Somalia!

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