Momentum for medical marijuana legislation continues to build in the state Senate.
The Senate's judiciary committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill from Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, that would let patients access up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for certain medical conditions.
As part of its vote, the committee did not recommend the bill. But Dibble welcomed the outcome, saying it allows the bill to move forward with bipartisan support to the Senate finance committee.
The voice vote followed testimony from law enforcement officials in opposition to the legislation.
"We simply do not view marijuana as some harmless substance, but instead see it as an addictive drug as well as a gateway drug," said Dennis Flaherty of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, asked if Flaherty might be more comfortable with the bill if it didn't allow patients to smoke marijuana.
Flaherty did not embrace the modification, and responded that law enforcement officials could support making marijuana in certain forms available to some patients in the context of a clinical research trial. Earlier this year, Gov. Mark Dayton put forward a plan for such studies.
But medical marijuana supporters have been critical of the idea, saying studies will take years to complete and won't help all patients who could benefit from access to cannabis.
The bill "would allow a program by which individuals who suffer from debilitating medical illnesses (could) have access to cannabis to help treat and alleviate some of the symptoms that they struggle with," Dibble said.
Doctors would certify that patients could benefit from medical marijuana. Patients then would receive an ID card from the state health department, so they could obtain cannabis from a new network of dispensaries.
There was emotional testimony Wednesday in support of the bill. Kristy Pauling said her family hopes that with access to medical marijuana, her daughter's seizure disorder will be controlled and the girl's life extended.
"You would think the hardest thing was the diagnosis," Pauling testified, "but it's telling her two older siblings that their sister is going to die."
Law enforcement officials said that medical marijuana would expand access to the drug in Minnesota, and thereby contribute to addiction problems.
"Marijuana is arguably one of the most widely abused controlled substances in Minnesota," testified Mona Dohman, the commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety.
Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at 651-228-5479. Follow him at www.twitter.com/chrissnowbeck. ___