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Medical marijuana backers push bill in Minnesota

Associated Press

ST. PAUL — Supporters of medical marijuana are enlisting family members of those who have died in slow agony as they push to get a bill to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk this session, even though he remains opposed.

Opponents include a former drug dealer who said authorizing seriously ill patients to obtain and use marijuana would just open the door to mischief.

The bill took its first step on Wednesday, passing the Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee on a divided voice vote after an emotional hearing.

"If medicinal marijuana or medical marijuana will alleviate someone’s pain in their dying days, who in the hell are we to say no to that?" said Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, who said he became a supporter after watching his mother die of cancer.

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Joni Whiting — who lost her 26-year-old daughter, Stephanie, to cancer in 2003 — broke down crying after reading a statement about the ordeal and the relief marijuana brought Stephanie. Whiting said she was anti-drug but came around when she saw how it helped her daughter. She said someone left a package of marijuana on her doorstep after she asked friends how to buy it.

"I have never known who to thank for it but I remain grateful beyond belief," Whiting said.

She added: "I would have no problem going to jail for acquiring medical marijuana for my suffering child."

But others raised doubts.

James Fruehling, 37, said he is in drug treatment after serving more than seven years in prison for dealing drugs. He said using marijuana led him to stronger drugs and then dealing, and when he heard about the medical marijuana proposal he started thinking of angles to game the system, such as outbidding patients for pot grown for their treatment or simply robbing growers.

"All this would do is make the job of drug dealer a lot easier," said Fruehling, who wouldn’t disclose where in Minnesota he lives.

Harlan Johnson, who heads the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said he has concerns even though legislative sponsors said the bill includes regulation and oversight to prevent abuses.

"Maybe so, but once the toothpaste is out of the tube it’s very difficult to put back in," he said.

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Pawlenty said Wednesday his long-standing opposition hasn’t changed.

"I really am taking my cues from the law enforcement community," the Republican governor said after an unrelated speech near the Capitol. "They’re the ones that have to deal with the drug issue in Minnesota. They’re on the front lines of it. They have the expertise and the knowledge, and they’re indicating this is a major, major concern."

Backers of medical marijuana include Democrats and Republicans. A Senate vote approving a similar bill in 2007 didn’t follow party lines. The full House has yet to vote on the issue.

Koering said he and fellow Republican Pawlenty don’t agree on everything, but he considers the governor to be an open-minded person and hopes he will listen to the case for medical marijuana.

By The Associated Press

The Minnesota Legislature is considering a plan to allow medical marijuana. Here’s how it would work:

— Doctors would write certificates recommending marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other serious conditions named in the bill.

— Patients and caregivers would register with the Health Department and get an ID card authorizing them to have up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Caregivers would have to pass a criminal background check. Giving false information would be a felony.

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— Selling or giving medical marijuana or an ID card to another person would be a felony.

— Organizations could register with the Health Department to grow medical marijuana in secure facilities. Employees would be subject to background checks. Patients who lived too far from registered organizations could grow up to 12 plants themselves.

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