- Associated Press - Friday, May 2, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A rift among Minnesota supporters of allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes could make it harder to push legalization through the legislature this year.

Committees in both the House and Senate were debating competing legislation Friday. A Senate panel stripped the option of smoking marijuana as medication from its bill on Thursday. But the House version is even more limited in how the drug may be accessed.

Removal of the option to smoke marijuana has exposed divisions among advocates, with some saying they could no longer support the measure while others said they would grudgingly accept a limited legalization.

Hibbing Democrat Rep. Carly Melin did not inform several medical-marijuana supporters of her plan to announce new legislation leaving out the option of smoking marijuana on Thursday, activists said.

And, once they found out, Melin sequestered them in a room at the Capitol forbidding them to speak to other parents of children suffering from maladies that they believe marijuana could treat, said Heather Azzi, political director of Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. That nonprofit works to protect people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes from criminal prosecution.

Azzi has been a key ally of Melin’s and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsors that chamber’s bill. She has assisted both in the drafting of several versions of medical-marijuana legislation. Azzi also has helped write medical-marijuana laws in several other states.

“My reaction was shock,” Azzi said of Melin’s actions. “She was my lead author and I trusted her.”

“I’m just super-sad,” said Kim Kelsey, 49, of Excelsior. She is a full-time care provider for her son, Alec, 22. He suffers from life-threatening intractable epilepsy, Kelsey said.

“Our whole group had become a family,” she said. “This division is breaking my heart.”

Melin declined to speak to a reporter from The Associated Press. “I don’t have time,” Melin said.

One of the parents, Angela Garin - whose 5-year-old son, Paxton, suffers from intractable epilepsy - said she no longer supported the bill.

“I’m going to support whatever bill helps Paxton, and at this point, Carly’s bill is just not it.” said Garin, 26, a St. Paul resident who works at a health care company,

Melin’s bill 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.

Law-enforcement officials worry that allowing people to smoke the plant would result in wider distribution and use of the illegal drug. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would not support a bill that does not have the endorsement of law enforcement.

Under the new proposal, 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.

But some advocates said the revised proposal is so filled with restrictions that patients would not be able to obtain the drug when and how they need it to alleviate symptoms.

“I’m not thrilled by these changes,” Dibble said after introducing the measure to strip the smoking provision from his bill. “But they are protecting the main goals and values of the legislation, which is to get more people access to medical marijuana.”

Dibble’s bill still would allow patients to use a vaporizer to treat their ailments with marijuana. And it also would allow marijuana extracts in pill form and oils from the plant manufactured by alternative treatment centers.

Despite the schism, Jessica Hauser, 36, of Woodbury, said she hoped the end result would be a law that gets Minnesota patients what they need.

“We’re fighting for our kids’ lives,” said Hauser, whose son Wyatt, 2, suffers from intractable epilepsy. “There’s still time to come to a functional resolution.”

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