The last time we heard legislators arguing about medical cannabis, it was in May, with politicians, law enforcement officials, and activists taking swings at each other over how broad the legislation should be. The bill the state ultimately passed was underwhelming, and left several legislators fuming over just how narrow it was.
On Thursday, those same legislators, activists, and law enforcement officials gathered together again, for the first meeting of the state's 23-member medical marijuana task force. This time, the mood was far more cordial.
"You all are so quiet!" said Sen. Scott Dibble, one of the co-chairs of the task force, at one point early in the meeting. "I'm not used to that."
There's good reason for that: The meeting wasn't so much a debate as it was a getting-to-know-you session, with members getting a detailed look at what's inside the law and the DHS updating them on its implementation. There were questions, but they were mostly clarifications about issues like doctor-patient relationships, data privacy, and HIPAA.
However, a few conversations did give us a peek into the priorities of a few members, most notably those in the healthcare community.
Two task force members from that community voiced their own concerns about addiction and potential abuse of the program. Karina Forrest-Perkins, the executive director of the women's treatment center Wayside House, and U.S. Public Health Service Rear Admiral Dawn Wyllie both said they were nervous about patients who may try to receive marijuana from multiple manufacturers or overuse by adding cannabis on top of prescription drugs. The DHS tried to ease those concerns, but it's sure to be an issue that will be talked about in months to come.
In the past, we've reported on the questionable makeup of the group, most notably that many of the appointees only want to see medical cannabis in very restricted scenarios.
While that's still a worry, the four legislators appointed to the task force may help to balance the leanings of the group. The two chairs of the task force are Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Carly Melin, who both initially supported legislation that was broader than what ended up getting passed. And the other two legislators brought on to the task force are Rep. Pat Garofalo, who supports broader coverage, and Sen. Branden Peterson, who wouldn't even vote for the eventual bill that passed due to its specificity.
The group won't be able to change any of the medical cannabis policies that are already in place, but it will be able to advise, drafting up reports assessing how the program is implemented and offering advice for new policies in the future.