- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Democratic leaders in the Minnesota House on Thursday proposed a limited clinical trial for medical marijuana, a compromise proposal that they said is unopposed by law enforcement.

Their proposal would allow children and adults suffering from severe illnesses to use medical marijuana, with the option of a state source for the drug if no federal source is available. It specifies that the drug could not be smoked, a key concern of police and prosecutor groups. The drug would be accessible in pill, oil or other extracts as part of clinical trials. If used in leaf form, the proposal says, it could be done only through medically supervised delivery by vaporizer.

Supporters said the proposal builds on one put forth by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this session.

But the idea has split medical-marijuana advocates. Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, said the nonprofit group likely will oppose the measure. That organization works to protect those using marijuana for medical reasons from criminal consequences.

“The option is nothing or nothing,” said Azzi. She said she doubted that doctors would prescribe marijuana due to fears of breaking federal law. “This proposal will accomplish nothing.”

Azzi said she hopes a broader Senate bill, which allows for smoking and wider access to the drug, prevails.

A push to legalize medical marijuana has been blocked this session largely by opposition from law enforcement. Dayton has wanted their approval and came forward with his clinical trial proposal when that didn’t happen. Supporters of medical marijuana fell out with the governor after he offered that proposal.

“It is by no means a perfect approach,” said Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing DFLer who has led the push to legalize medical marijuana. But Melin said it was rooted in “political reality” and aimed at addressing the most imminent needs. She said it would still result in “real help for families.”

Angela Weaver, 32, a Hibbing woman whose young daughter suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, welcomed the proposal.

“We are so grateful for this compromise bill because Amelia can’t wait any longer,” she said of the daughter who turns eight on Friday. “If we don’t pass this bill we will be moving to Colorado. Amelia can’t suffer anymore.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen said he has spoken with Dayton, whom he said is looking seriously at it.

“It’s a deal that the parents can be supportive of and law enforcement is not opposed to,” Thissen said.

In a written statement, Dayton said he appreciates the efforts to develop a workable bill but needed more time to assess whether this was it. He said has asked his Department of Health to assess costs and hurdles.

“I also want legal counsel to assess the potential liability to the state from sponsoring such trials,” Dayton said. “I will need that information before making any decision.”

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said it will get at least one committee hearing, set for Friday, before reaching the floor. Several Senate committees have advanced a medical marijuana proposal in the past week.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he needs to review the House proposal but plans to press ahead with his own for now. “I just don’t know enough about their proposal. I’m not rejecting it or reflexively opposed to it,” Dibble said.

Legalizing medical marijuana has had an up-and-down road this session.

Besides law enforcement groups, Dayton’s health and human services commissioners have opposed it. Law enforcement groups say marijuana is a dangerous drug that would be used more widely if it became allowed for medical use.

John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said the association’s board must review the proposal before committing to a position.

But the legislation comes “very close to what we’ve had on the table for a month,” Kingrey said. “It comes very close to alleviating the concerns we’ve had.”

Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and many doctors say no good data exists to prove the drug’s medical effectiveness. And Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said marijuana is addictive and can harm young brains.

But other doctors, scientists, several Minnesota lawmakers and parents of ill children argue that years of evidence exists from many states where medical marijuana is legal that the drug relieves disease symptoms when no other medicine does.

Dibble revived the proposal last month after Dayton challenged state lawmakers who “have hidden behind their desks” while he took the heat for his efforts reconciling the two sides.

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