Only a few months ago, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom called a press conference to announce that "marijuana is not a medicine." It may come as a surprise, then, that the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition recently outlined for lawmakers the perimeters in which they could work with a medical marijuana bill.
Backstrom was unavailable for comment, but Pipestone County Sheriff Dan Delaney, another member of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition, took our call.
"I'm not a doctor," Delaney explains, but if the medical community believes this could benefit patients, "Who am I to say that is wrong?"
This is essentially the same argument made by patients and caregivers. Delaney's statement confirms that, after years of folding their arms, the state's top cops and prosecutors are ready to talk. The next question is how to manage the program.
Delaney says the medical marijuana bill as it stands is "too vague and too loose" in how it regulates distribution and cultivation.
The number of plants that qualifying patients could grow has already been cut from 12 to six. But that's six too many for law enforcement officials. They say they're concerned that those plants would make it to the black market and don't take a whole lot of consolation in the fact that diverting one's personal supply would be a felony.
In January, Gov. Mark Dayton asked both sides to come to the table and settle on a bill they're all happy with. For that to happen, Delaney says, marijuana is going to have to be treated like other medications that have the potential for abuse.
"For example," the sheriff says, "opiates are used in the medical profession, but we don't allow the common individual to grow poppies and develop their own opiates from it."
According to Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, the list was put together after certain lawmakers reached out and asked for it. It does not equal support for medical marijuana, he says. It was intended to carve out a middle path -- a way to stay neutral in the debate.
"I don't think we, as law enforcement, can support any type of a medical marijuana because, technically speaking, it's a violation of federal law," Franklin says, adding that any marijuana reform ought to come from Congress rather than individual state legislatures.
The list urges lawmakers to limit the qualifying conditions of medical marijuana patients to "seizures, late stage cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or AIDS." It would restrict the use of marijuana to liquids, pills, and vapor -- in other words, no smoking allowed, even though that's how the majority of patients ingest it.
State Rep. Carly Melin, who's sponsoring the bill in the House, says she's puzzled by law enforcement's demands and worries that, if taken seriously, they would gut a bill that already accounts for their public safety concerns. She points out that law enforcement's vision of the program would prohibit doctors from prescribing marijuana to new chemo patients and would prohibit nurses from prescribing marijuana to anyone.
"What they put forward wouldn't help anyone," Melin says. "It's unworkable."