Cannabis Supporters Take One Final Shot at Mark Dayton

Pat McClellan wants to see more medical cannabis

Pat McClellan wants to see more medical cannabis

As the television camera lights shine on Pat McLellan's face, he holds up a set of four sheets of paper, each a signed pledge from a gubernatorial candidate saying that they support expanding Minnesota's medical cannabis laws.

He takes a breath, then spreads the papers out across the podium in front of him. They're all here, he says. GOP candidate Jeff Johnson. The Independence Party's Hannah Nicollet. Libertarian Chris Holbrook and Grassroots Party candidate Chris Wright. But one's missing: incumbent Mark Dayton.

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McClellan, who has muscular dystrophy, speaks at the podium on behalf of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, the organization that sent out the pledges. And while every other candidate has signed the pledge, matching with the organization's goals to expand Minnesota's cannabis law to thousands more people, Dayton refused.

It was the last straw for the group. It amounted to the final in a long line of offenses that started earlier this year, when a Senate bill that could have given medical cannabis to thousands with pain was scrapped. It was replaced with a highly restrictive law, limiting users to those with only a few ailmentsm like certain types of cancer or Crohn's disease.

Those restrictions were intentional, brought on by the interests of law enforcement, who didn't want to see a law that would suddenly open up cannabis to tens or hundreds of thousands of Minnesota residents.

"I believe Governor Dayton chose politics and not science," McClellan says. "And because of that, thousands of people will continue to suffer needlessly."

Minnesotans for Compassionate Care is still dead-set on changing the law and expanding it in the next legislature. But without Dayton's support on that issue, the advocates say, they simply can't support him in next week's election.

To Dayton's credit, his campaign said yesterday that it only received the pledge late last night. But even with that, Dayton reaffirmed his position, telling reporters yesterday that he plans to wait until after the election before taking a position on any upcoming legislation.

The question remains: when there are so many other issues being covered in the race -- health care, mining, taxes -- why is the expansion of medical cannabis the only thing that really matters to those like McLellan?

The answer to that came from Joni Whiting, an activist who used marijuana to help her daughter with melanoma before she died 11 years ago. She voted for Dayton four years ago, but now, she says, she just can't. It's because medical cannabis is truly life-and-death.

"Three days after Governor Dayton signed that law, I went to the funeral of a 10-year-old boy," Whiting squeaks out, tears forming in her eyes. "I am tired of going to funerals for people where cannabis has been shown to alleviate their symptoms."

When Whiting sees how cannabis could help countless people around her, she says, it becomes the absolute biggest issue that she sees. So when she votes, that's what will be going through her mind.

"I really, really believed in him," Whiting says. "But I have to keep going on."

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.