More liberal medical marijuana bill likely to win Senate approval, Scott Dibble says

Pro-medical marijuana DFL leadership in the House and Senate are on two different tracks. Can they come together during the session's final two weeks?
Pro-medical marijuana DFL leadership in the House and Senate are on two different tracks. Can they come together during the session's final two weeks?

The big medical marijuana compromise announced yesterday by House DFL leaders has gone over about as well as the Hindenburg with medical marijuana activists, but Sen. Scott Dibble (D-Minneapolis) tells us a more liberal version of the bill in his chamber is still very much alive.

The House bill isn't opposed by law enforcement, and Gov. Mark Dayton has said that's a necessary condition for him to sign medical marijuana legislation into law. But in related news, the bill wouldn't allow anybody to actually smoke marijuana. Qualifying patients would be able to use a vaporizer, "but only under direct, in-person supervision and the control of a licensed health care provider."

See also:
Contradicting published reports, Dayton now denies telling moms to buy pot off street

The Senate version, on the other hand, would allow patients to smoke marijuana under certain conditions. (Correction -- after this was published, we learned that an amendment proposed during a Senate hearing today removed smokeable medical marijuana from Dibble's bill. Like the House bill, it still allows for vaporizing.)

Reached for comment this afternoon, Dibble says he's "more inclined to pursue the approach we have in the Senate."

Sen. Scott Dibble
Sen. Scott Dibble

"My intention is to bring that bill to the floor and to have a floor vote on our bill, and I think we'll be able to do that next week," he adds.

Asked about how he thinks that vote will go, Dibble says he expects the bill to be approved.

"We're in a very strong position," he says. "I believe it'll be a strong bipartisan vote."

Reached for comment last night, Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, was far less diplomatic than Dibble when asked about the House compromise.

"I think the proposal offered today doesn't get anything done whatsoever," she told us. "However, I'm pleased that law enforcement has moved from the position of outright opposition to one that accepts [marijuana's] medical value."

But that's about all Azzi is pleased about when it comes to the House bill. She criticized the proposal for removing intractable pain and PTSD from the list of conditions qualifying people for medical marijuana and said she'd prefer to see marijuana regulated "more like a traditional pharmaceutical that doesn't have specific conditions."

Azzi also expressed frustration her group wasn't included in talks between legislators and law enforcement.

"This was very secretive today. We knew nothing about the proposal until about 10 a.m. this morning when he heard about it through the media," she said. "It's been a rough day. I wish I could tell you more, could tell you everything. But we're going to work with them to fix this bill."

Azzi said discussions she had yesterday afternoon with House DFL leaders left her feeling that legislators are willing to address "fundamental flaws" in the proposal. But she expressed regret those talks are happening after a major news conference trumpeting an "unworkable" piece of legislation.

(For more, click to page two.)

"We've been offering to help since December of 2012," Azzi said. "This isn't the way the legislative process is supposed to work, with major stakeholders cut out of it. It's very disappointing."

Heather Azzi
Heather Azzi

Perhaps more egregious of all, Azzi said, is the fact the House bill is clearly unconstitutional, as it proposes to involve the state of Minnesota in the production of marijuana through a "state-based manufacturer of medication" if federally supplied pot isn't available.

That's tantamount to a "conspiracy to grow and distribute marijuana, which is a federal crime and would render the whole proposal unconstitutional," Azzi said. "Workable medical marijuana laws calls on states to register and regulate third parties."

Long story short, if the legislature and Dayton went down the path proposed by the House bill, it'd leave the state open to a lawsuit that could quickly nullify the whole medical marijuana system.

Asked how flexible he thinks House leaders will be if and when the time comes to hammer out some sort of compromise with his chamber, Dibble says he's "getting mixed messages."

"We'll figure that out when the time comes," he continues. "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

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