House and Senate emerge with medical marijuana compromise

Surrounded by advocates and lawmakers, Rep. Carly Melin describes provisions of an agreement on a medical cannabis proposal that is expected to come to a House vote Friday. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

The father of a child who would benefit from medical marijuana legislation said advocating for such legislation is like a wild roller coaster ride that went from the appearance of dead bills to speaking to representatives and senators to the compromise of today.

“It’s been a long road, but now I’m getting my daughter the medicine she needs,” Jeremy Pauling said at a Thursday news conference. His daughter suffers from Battens disease, a neurological disease that includes seizures.

A medical marijuana study in Minnesota looks slated to become a reality now that members of the House and Senate, along with law enforcement, medical groups and advocates have come together to support or declare neutrality on a bill that Gov. Mark Dayton has signaled he would sign.

A conference committee approved an amended version of the bill Thursday night. The House and Senate are expected to take up the conference committee report on Friday.

The committee approved two oral amendments. One would allow parents to obtain medical marijuana for their children without going through the designated caregiver process. The second would allow patients in residences such as a group home or nursing facility have more than one designated caregiver.

“The fact that we were able to come together with an agreement that is going to be signed into law is thrilling for a lot of people who have been fighting very, very hard through blood, sweat and tears in order to get something done this session,” said Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), who sponsored the House medical marijuana bill, said at the news conference. Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) sponsored a bill in the Senate.

“I look forward to signing this bill into law,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “And I pledge that my administration, led by Dr. (Ed) Ehlinger, will do everything possible to implement it as swiftly and successfully, as is possible.” Ehlinger is the state’s health commissioner.

Some provisions of the newly proposed medical marijuana bill

The bill would retain the patient registry system that was in the amended House bill, SF2470. It would allow the Department of Health to conduct an observational study on the impact of medical marijuana. It also retains the list of qualifying medical conditions from the House bill, adding chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting and severe wasting associated with cancer or a terminal illness.

The other conditions are:

  • glaucoma;
  • HIV/AIDS;
  • Tourette syndrome;
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS);
  • seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy;
  • severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristics of multiple sclerosis; and
  • Crohn’s disease.

To participate in the patient registry to obtain medical marijuana for those conditions, patients would need to pay a registry fee of $200 or $50 for those receiving some types of aid.

The bill would allow two manufacturers and up to a total of eight distribution sites in Minnesota. This is an increase from the one manufacturer and up to two distribution sites in the House proposal and a major decrease from the Senate-backed, SF1641, which allowed for 55 distribution sites.

Security measures from the Senate bill, as well as penalties for misusing the registry system to provide marijuana to someone not in the registry are also part of the compromise.

Said Ehlinger about the proposed bill: "It allows those who are suffering with serious illnesses the opportunity to incorporate medical cannabis (marijuana) into their treatment plan while at the same time this really protects the public … and what I’m also pleased about is that this bill allows us to collect some information so that we learn more about the benefits of medical cannabis.”

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Andrea Parrott's picture
Andrea Parrott

Andrea Parrott is a freelance writer from the 'burbs. (Twitter: @andrea_parrott)