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Medical marijuana deal is reached, after what one advocate calls ‘the wildest roller-coaster ride I’ve ever been on’

Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Carly Melin worked out a compromise, which is almost certain to pass in both chambers on Friday.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, were the two who were able to work out a compromise on medical marijuana.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach

Emotions flowed Thursday afternoon with the announcement that the House and Senate have come to agreement on a bill that will legalize — in very limited ways — medical marijuana.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, were the two who were able to work out a compromise, which is almost certain to pass in both chambers on Friday.

This bill, which is expected to serve around 5,000 Minnesotans, will not lack for critics, most of whom will argue that it does not go far enough.

But given the long, tortured history of trying to pass any sort of bill, this moment has to be considered historic.

Ventura supported, Pawlenty vetoed

Recall, Gov. Jesse Ventura supported medical marijuana but couldn’t get legislative bodies to pass a bill. In 2009, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill that would have been more expansive than this bill.

Gov. Mark Dayton was against it before he was for it. Dayton always said he would lean with law enforcement, which has declared itself a neutral on this bill.

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Despite the tough restrictions — for example, there will be just eight distribution centers in the state, a far cry from the 55 sites Dibble initially sought — emotions ran high, especially when Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, described his change of heart.

Hamilton once was a rock-solid foe of any form of medical marijuana bill.

But then, in January, he had a conversation with Angie Weaver of Hibbing. Weaver’s daughter, Amelia, struggles with a condition that causes her to suffer up to 50 seizures a day. The family has long argued that marijuana treatments in California have created miraculous results.

‘Happy to be a flip-flopper on this issue’

Hamilton talks, passionately, of how he was moved by a mother’s anguish.

“I’m happy to be a flip-flopper on this issue,’’ he said. “Only a fool or a dead man never change their mind.’’

Hamilton has spoken passionately on the House floor in support of a bill, though he still says that he needs the restrictions that fill this bill.

“This means the world to us,’’ said Weaver of the bill.

The main thing it gives her family is “hope,’’ she said. It also means the family can stay in Minnesota for the treatment her daughter needs.

Other impacted families made similar comments.

‘Citizen government at its best’

“This bill is citizen government at its best,’’ Dayton said in a statement. “It has been led by parents, who deeply love their children, are anguished by their pain and insist their government try to help them. As a father and a grandfather, I both understand and admire their devotion.’’

It was, recall, a visit to the governor’s mansion by parents of suffering children that began the process of moving Dayton on the issue.

Prior to the news event, Dibble spoke of how this bill is similar to the legalization of gay marriage that came last session. This is one of those changing-times issues, Dibble said.

“It’s generational,’’ he said.

Compromise was important because it is a foot in the door for an issue that has faced so much opposition in the past.

Could inspire DFLers in the fall

According to some union leaders, who were strong proponents of passage of the bill, this also is important politics, perhaps especially for the DFL. Along with minimum wage, this is the sort of bill that might inspire DFLers, who typically don’t show up to the polls in off-year elections, to vote in November.

Ultimately, union leaders say this isn’t only a bill that makes sense to younger voters; it’s potentially a jobs bill. It will, they say, create work from the production to sales points.

Minnesota will  join 21 states and the District of Columbia as a state where medical marijuana is legal, though legislators noted that Minnesota will have tighter controls than anywhere else.

This bill also continues the long road on how marijuana is viewed by the state.

In ’70s it was decriminalization

On Thursday, Bob Vanasek, who was a member of the House from 1973 to 1993, recalled the struggle to decriminalize possession of marijuana in the late 1970s.

He credited a speech by a conservative Republican, the late Rod Searle, in leading to decriminalization.

“He gave a memorable speech on why it should be decriminalized,’’ Vanasek recalled. “If we didn’t act, he said that we would be destroying the futures of so many young people. If we didn’t decriminalize we would be stopping people from becoming doctors, attorneys. He was so adamant.’’

Assuming passage, this bill will create an avenue for people suffering a fairly long list of health issues:

Those who have cancer and accompanying severe or chronic pain or nausea; glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, tourette’s syndrome; ALS; seizures; severe and persistent muscle spasm, including those characteristc of multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and severe pain cause by a terminal illness.

Left out, however, are those suffering from post traumatic stress issues (think military veterans) and those suffering from “intractable pain.’’

“It gives us no pleasure,’’ said Dibble of those excluded from the bill.

But most seem to believe that larger groups will be included in future years.

Four-step registration for treatment

There is a four-step registration proceedure for those seeking medical marijuana treatment. Registration will cost $200.

Medical marijuana would be provided in such forms as a liquid, pill or vaporized proceedure that does not required dried leaves. However, the compromise law does allowfor whole plant extracts to be used.

Jeremy Pauling, father of a child who will qualify for medical marijuana, admitted he was near tears as the compromise was unveiled.

The process was exhausting and emotional.

“It’s the wildest roller-coaster ride I’ve ever been on,’’ he said.