House medical marijuana bill involves state workers, doctors in federal offenses, activist says


Today, Minneapolis Sen. Scott Dibble's medical marijuana bill passed its final committee hurdle in the Senate, paving the way for a floor vote in that chamber.

Dibble's bill, which allows patients to vaporize marijuana but not smoke it, is still more liberal than the medical marijuana bill making its way through the House. In fact, Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, tells us the House version is fundamentally unworkable because it would implicate both state employees and doctors in federal offenses.

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That's because the House bill calls upon the state to oversee the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, which patients could use "only under direct, in-person supervision and the control of a licensed health care provider."

But of course, growing and distributing marijuana violates federal law. And in states with workable medical marijuana systems, doctors don't directly observe patients, Azzi says.

"It requires state employees and doctors to commit felonies," Azzi tells us. "That bill won't help a single patient for that reason."

"It's unconstitutional. A doctor has a very limited right under the First Amendment to speak about marijuana's medical efficacy when it comes to prescribing or dosing, or they risk losing their license to the federal government," she continues. "It's most definitely illegal for a doctor to prescribe or talk about specific dosing with a patient."

 By contrast, the Senate bill would mostly remove the government from the equation.

"Under the Senate version, the Commissioner of Health would select people to run alternative treatment centers, which would implement strict security measures... to track every plant from seed to sale," Azzi says. "It would remove government from this process and give some ability for private citizens to have a role in this program."

Though she characterizes the Senate bill as "a very solid piece of legislation," Azzi says the proposal would make the Minnesota the first state to have a medical marijuana system that prohibits any and all smoking. But since vaporizers have improved so much in recent years, Azzi says she can live with that.

"It's a good compromise if the law enforcement community is really concerned about the smoking of cannabis," Azzi says.

Asked why she thinks law enforcement is concerned so much about smoking, Azzi says she has no idea.

"Very little of what law enforcement says makes any sense on this issue. That's the truth of the matter," she says. "They make claims consistently that contradict the facts we've seen. They say teen use is increasing in states where medical marijuana is involved, but the numbers before and after show teen use is going down in several cases."

But even though the Senate version steers clear of involving the state and doctors in federal offenses, it wouldn't result in Hennepin Avenue being dotted by flashy medical marijuana dispensaries or in City Pages being stuffed with dispensary ads.

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"The bill is modeled after the New Mexico program, where we don't hear about dispensaries. There'd be no big neon marijuana leaf signs," Azzi says. "In states where these programs are effective, dispensaries do not advertize... they're just another clinic or pharmacy."

Azzi says she's still "absolutely" confident the medical marijuana bill that will emerge from conference committee will look more like the Senate version than the House one.

"I don't think any politician in the state of Minnesota is willing to take the political hit that would be involved in implementing an ineffective medical marijuana program," Azzi says. "I believe they are going to do the right thing."

But on Friday, Dibble told us he's "getting mixed messages" about how flexible the House DFL leadership will be when it comes time to hammer out an agreement.

"We'll figure that out when the time comes," he said. "We're separate chambers, we're bicameral, and the system is designed for the different bodies to work on policy ideas separate from each other and at some point we start talking more closely."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]