As a conference committee tries to hash out (pardon the pun) a medical marijuana compromise, one issue that's already been agreed upon is that Minnesota's medical marijuana system won't allow patients to actually smoke marijuana.
The House bill doesn't even allow patients to get their hands on plant-form marijuana, while the Senate version allows patients to leave a dispensary with up to 2.5 ounces. Once patients return home, they'd be prohibited from smoking the stuff, but enforcement of that provision would basically boil down to the honor system. (For a nice breakdown of the differences between the House and Senate version of the bill, click here.)
Asked about that provision, Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, points out that "every other medical marijuana state in the country trusts the patients with their medicine, as we do with oxycontin. This is nothing new."
Those convicted of violating the smoking ban would face a $200 fine under the Senate version.
A previous version of the House medical marijuana bill required patients to remain under medical supervision while using marijuana, but that provision was removed from the bill now under consideration in conference committee. So while patients wouldn't be able to get their hands on actual marijuana, they would be able to vaporize liquids and oils from the comfort of their home. (Ironically, those extracts are actually more intoxicating than straight-up plant marijuana.)
During a Monday news conference, Gov. Mark Dayton expressed concern about medical marijuana being diverted for recreational use.
"It's just to me impossible to believe that somebody is gonna buy two and a half ounces of marijuana and not smoke it or not sell it to somebody else who will," Dayton said. "It just defies common sense in my judgment."
But Azzi points out that the Senate bill includes a felony-level penalty to diversion. Furthermore, offenders would have their medical marijuana cards revoked and would be banned from participating in the program.
Dayton is concerned, however, that allowing patients to take leaf marijuana home with them will turn Minnesota into Colorado before too long.
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"The governor of Colorado, a Democrat [John Hickenlooper], was asked if he would advise other states to follow in Colorado's footsteps and he said, 'I would advise them to wait a couple years and see what happens here,'" Dayton said Monday. "So that's not a ringing endorsement of the approach they've taken, which started as legalizing medical marijuana and then, from what I've been told at least by some, the breakdown of control over that system was such that they decided to legalize it and make the best of it, make the money off of it rather than continue to deal with the failure of the controls."
Though Dayton said there are components of the Senate bill he likes, he said, "The House bill, with the limited distribution and the limit of the pill form or capsule, is much more likely to be controlled and used appropriately by people who it is intended [for]."
Asked if concerns of that sort might lead him to veto the medical marijuana bill if the one that arrives at his desk is along the lines of the less restrictive Senate version, Dayton said, "I'm not going to use that word at this point but anything is on the table."
Once the conference committee arrives at a compromise, the revised medical marijuana bill will return to the Legislature for one last vote. If it's approved by both chambers, it then heads to the governor's desk for his signature or veto.
Azzi says she's entirely confident the Senate version of the bill would be approved by the House.
"The issue is getting the governor's signature," she adds.
The legislative session is set to end this weekend, so expect developments to unfold quickly in the coming two or three days.