The Minnesota Senate approved a bill Tuesday that legalizes marijuana for medical use but limits ingestion to pills, oil, and vaporizing. It made it across the finish line with enough votes to overcome a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton -- 48 to 18 -- following a five-hour debate that produced some of the most bizarre statements uttered this session.
The biggest pushback came from Sen. Bill "I'm so against this bill" Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), who opened up his remarks by saying the state should be more concerned with pot holes than pot. What followed was a series of statements, similar to those he laid out in a recent letter, about how medical marijuana was a grave step toward all-out blazing in the streets.
Fear-mongering eventually gave way to non sequitur. Alcohol and cigarettes are already legal, he reminded no one. "Why in the world would anybody vote to bring in a third killer? Think about that."
Ingebrigtsen went so far as to force several fellow senators to say whether they had spoken with their local sheriffs, who are opposed to the legislation. He also insinuated that the bill's author, Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), was a know-it-all who skirted his questions.
To which Dibble responded: "I've been answering the questions. Maybe I haven't been giving the answers that Senator Ingebrigtsen likes."
A flabbergasted Sen. Branden Petersen (R-Andover) described Ingebrigtsen's mental process as a "logical fallacy bingo board," then cautioned against insulting the intelligence of his colleagues.
As for the bill, Petersen, who's a sponsor, boiled down the debate to a simple question: "Do you believe that health care decisions are best made between doctors and patients?"
Some might see reductionism in that statement -- Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) argued it would allow people to go back to the "good old days" of making medicine in steaming black pots -- but it actually represents the underlying philosophy of medical marijuana programs elsewhere in the country.
Most of the 21 states with laws on the books, including New Mexico, have made it clear that the plant is not a panacea and not for everyone. The laws of those states (plus D.C.) merely provide civil protection and controls for consenting patients and doctors and caregivers who want to administer marijuana as medicine.
This point would be drummed over and over again during the hearing. Sober heads on the side of the opposition spent their time arguing that Minnesota was moving too quickly. They asked for more time to let the federal government study the plant and offered an unsuccessful amendment intended to delay the start date of the proposed program.
A watered down version of the same bill in the House, which would create an "observational study" rather than a system for distribution, cleared the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday morning. Representatives are expected to vote Friday.
Smoking is prohibited in both bills, but the Senate version allows patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other illnesses to obtain up to 2.5 ounces. It permits 55 alternative treatment centers throughout the state and toughens the penalty to a felony for any patient caught diverting their supply.
The most emotional appeal Tuesday came from Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), who until last week was unsure how to vote. His mind changed, though, when his mother called him to say that his uncle had been enduring a great deal of pain from cancer. Wiger cast a yes vote on his family's behalf.
"For God's sake," he says, "if people are suffering and we have the ability to provide a way to alleviate their pain, let's hear their concern, let's hear their prayer."