Cops are out.
Gov. Mark Dayton has directed two members of his staff as well as the state public health commissioner to work with medical marijuana supporters in crafting a bill he could possibly sign into law within the next two months.
The news came on Thursday after patients and advocates descended on his mansion in St. Paul with strollers and signs that read, "Love Over Law Enforcement." They called on the governor to stop letting the spokesmen of public safety dictate the conversation and to offer new negotiating partners, now that the bill has been effectively stalled.
Earlier in the day, Dayton made it clear on a conference call that he's skeptical of the government's ability to properly distribute marijuana to patients, and that more research needs to be done on the plant's medicinal value.
Apparently joints rub him the wrong way -- though he's open to the idea of ingesting marijuana in liquid or vapor form. Any bill that permits smoking, he told reporters, "is not going to happen" this year. The Star Tribune quotes the governor as adding:
Nobody wants to be in a position of causing anybody undue suffering or standing in the way of anybody's suffering being relieved. But you're talking about making law and public policy for 5.3 million people. You have to weigh in the balance what the experts say are the gains for how many people and what they say are the likely losses for how many people.Perhaps the most confusing thing he's uttered in this entire saga came next. He suggested that patients simply continue to buy marijuana on the street, explaining that the punishment for possessing less than an ounce and a half is a only petty misdemeanor.
When pressed, the governor backpedaled into this response: "I'm not advocating anybody do whatever it is they do. I'm just pointing out the reality in our society."
Several of the protesters who met with the governor later in the day described his initial attitude as "bewildered" and "angry." Dayton is recovering from hip surgery, and the supporters greeted him with a massive card that said, "We hope your position on the medical marijuana bill will get better soon!" It also entreated him to "Show some backbone!"
"That pissed him off," says Patrick McClellan, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy. However, McClellan walked away from the two-hour conversation feeling that the governor had been "extremely gracious."
At a certain point, though, Dayton questioned whether supporters even had enough votes to get the bill to his desk, McClellan says: "He wants to see what our end results are."
Dayton released a statement through his press secretary saying he was "grateful for the opportunity this afternoon to spend time with these Minnesotans, and hear their stories. Following the meeting, the Governor said it was difficult to see that so many good Minnesotans are enduring such pain and suffering."
Still, one very important question remains unanswered: Why, in the first place, did the state's top cops and prosecutors have the power to veto legislation?
Several protesters mulled it over on the steps of the governor's mansion. They included T.J. Nelson, a Brainerd man who uses marijuana to ease the pain cause by Crohn's Disease.
"I must have missed that part in civics class," he says, "when the teacher taught us that police make the laws."