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Jeff Johnson is the only Republican candidate for governor who supports medical marijuana

Medical marijuana activists see the state's new law as only the beginning of broader reform. They've vowed to continue fighting at the Capitol and extend coverage to thousands more Minnesotans.

Success or failure depends not only on the stamina of such activists, but on the outcome of this fall's elections, particularly in the race for governor. Of course, a lot can happen in a year. But it's worth considering where the remaining candidates stand on this single issue to get a better sense of the difficulty of the task ahead.

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How the MN Board of Pharmacy advocated for and against medical marijuana research

On the right, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has emerged as both the MN GOP endorsee and the only supporter of medical marijuana (now that state Sen. Dave Thompson has bowed out). Although Johnson considers himself a "pretty strong social conservative," he's expressed repeated support for Illinois's four-year pilot program, which allows smoking and covers a relatively wide range of illnesses. It more closely resembles the Minnesota Senate proposal that got eclipsed in the final bill here.

As a state representative, Johnson once sat on the Public Safety Policy and Finance Committee, but he claims he never seriously considered the issue until he announced his candidacy for governor.

He explained his position this way: "When I hear doctors say, 'I've had patients who at the end of their lives are suffering terribly, and if I had this option it would be a better option than anything else I could give to them to die peacefully,' that's powerful."

The three remaining candidates vying for the Republican primary have not been shy about their opposition. Businessman Scott Honour has argued that states should not supersede federal jurisdiction when it comes to prescription drugs.

Both Marty Seifert, a former state representative, and Kurt Zellers, a current state representative from Maple Grove, voted against a 2009 medical marijuana proposal that was later vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Zellers also voted against this year's modest proposal in the House that became the basis of the law.

"I haven't seen legislation that I could support yet," Zellers told reporters in late March. "What you're seeing in California is that there are all kinds of 15-year-olds walking around with glaucoma apparently because they are able to get prescriptions willy-nilly. I think that's an absolute wrong place for our state to go."

Gov. Mark Dayton's position, meanwhile, has been well documented and scrutinized, and some critics tie it directly to his falling poll numbers. A KSTP/Survey USA Poll, taken in the midst of the public backlash in April, registered a whopping 40 percent disapproval rating.

And let us not forget the state's third parties. Candidates for Independence, Libertarian, Green, and, of course, Grassroots have all made meaningful marijuana reform a part of their platform.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to jmarx@citypages.com


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