The Minnesota House approved medical marijuana legislation Friday with overwhelming support that cut across party lines.
It's passage, with a 86-39 vote, leaves Minnesota poised to become the 22nd state with a medical marijuana program. What that program will look like is still up in the air. A conference committee is now tasked with hashing out two very different bills before dropping the final decision on Gov. Mark Dayton.
The House version, lead by Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbin), is far more conservative. Melin acknowledges that the proposal wasn't as broad and inclusive as some had hoped, "but I can't take an all-or-nothing approach this session," she says. "We need to provide relief for these families now."
The Senate bill, which was approved Wednesday and spearheaded by Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), has neither the support of law enforcement nor the governor, but it saves both the state and patients more money, and provides a wider reaching distribution system for a great number of people in pain. It passed with overwhelming support on Wednesday, despite the efforts of some boring old biddies to paint marijuana as a mysterious substance and a killer.
On Friday, the Reefer Madness baton passed to Rep. Bob Barett (R-Lindstrom), a marketing executive at Hazelden Foundation treatment center. In support of an amendment that would have prevented the public health commissioner from approving other marijuana delivery methods, Barrett gave the example of a Wyoming student who, in April, ate a few too many marijuana cookies, then fell to his death from a balcony in Denver.
Barrett asserted that he was just as compassionate as anyone else -- his wife, in fact, could benefit from medical marijuana. However, he disapproves of the plant generally, because of its potential for addiction.
"I empathize with the moms and dads and kids (who could also benefit)," he says, "but see too many unintended negative consequences of this bill."
One opponent after another argued that Minnesota was bypassing a process that normally involves the FDA, and urged fellow representatives to wait. The task of shattering this pipe dream fell to Rep. Tara Mack (R-Apple Valley), who reminded the floor that the federal government has stymied research.
As for the question of marijuana's addictive nature, she added, "We all know addiction is a symptom of much bigger issues in society."
But as much grief as Melin has gotten for buckling to the pressures of the state's top cops and prosecutors, several legislators went on record Friday saying they favored her bill over Dibble's. Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) credited patient-activists like the Weavers as well as his own family members for helping him see the light. A decade ago, when the issue came up in the House, he dismissed it out of hand.
"I'm proud to be a flip-flopper on this issue and you have my support," he says.
After the vote, Hamilton bumped into one of those patients who helped change his mind -- Pat McClellan, a former chef who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy. Both men smiled and leaned on their canes, pumping hands. McClellan searched helplessly for the right words of gratitude, the tears flowing from his eyes.
"Thank you," he says. "That's all I've got to say -- thank you."