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Debate in Legislature over medical marijuana heats up

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ST. PAUL — DFL Gov. Mark Dayton criticized lawmakers Tuesday for having "hidden behind their desks" on the issue of medical marijuana, prompting the top Senate leader to say he is willing to put the measure up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Dayton told reporters it is time for lawmakers to step up and try to find a compromise on the issue.

"They've all stood on the sidelines while I've engaged in this discussion," he said.

Asked whether he would veto a medical marijuana provision if it reached his desk, Dayton said he would have to review it. But he added it's time for lawmakers to take action.

"Let's seem 'em vote. They have hidden behind their desks for the whole session while I've taken this on," he said.

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said in an interview the governor's comments have led him to support moving ahead with hearings on medical marijuana. The Senate Health and Human Services Policy Committee has scheduled a Thursday morning hearing on a bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL- Minneapolis. In the past, Bakk said he was hesitant to dedicate legislative time to the issue if the governor was going to be unwilling to support it.

"I have less anxiety now that he is going to veto it now that he's actually asked us to move it," Bakk said.

The bill still would need to pass several legislative committees to keep moving. But provided it survives, Bakk said, "I expect it is going to end up on the floor of the Senate."

Dayton has said in the past he would not sign a medical marijuana bill unless it had the support of law enforcement. Some police officials have grave concerns that such a proposal would make it more difficult to enforce the state's drug laws. Meanwhile, supporters have ramped up their efforts to push for the bill, running TV ads across the state criticizing the governor for blocking the measure.

Bill vote delayed

In the House, legislative leaders delayed a planned vote today on a sweeping health and human services policy bill sponsored by Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling because a Republican lawmaker was seeking to amend the bill to include legalization of medical marijuana. Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, authored the amendment . It would prohibit smoking marijuana and prevent patients from growing their own plants.

Garofalo declined to comment on his decision to author the amendment citing concern it could hurt efforts to reach a compromise.

Liebling, who supports legalizing medical marijuana, said DFL leadership told her the vote on her bill would be delayed. She said she personally agrees with the governor.

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"I think it is a legislative issue, and I do think the Legislature should deal with it," she said.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said in a statement that the House wants to work with the Dayton administration to try to find a compromise.

"We appreciate the governor's work to find a compromise that will help the families of kids with epilepsy. We share that goal, and we believe there is an opportunity to work in partnership with the administration to reach a solution, but taking up Rep. Garofalo's amendment will not help us achieve that result," Murphy said in a statement.

Mayo study proposed

Dayton has proposed a $2.2 million research study led by Mayo Clinic on the therapeutic benefits of CBD, a derivative of marijuana, in treating children with "intractable seizures." The plan was developed last month after Dayton met with families pushing for the legislation.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she would like to see lawmakers support the governor's study proposal.

"I think that would be a great start," she said.

But medical marijuana supporters oppose the study, saying legislation needs to be passed that would help all patients. They also question whether Mayo Clinic would be able to get the CBD for the study because it is an illegal drug. The governor has set preliminary discussion with the Federal Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency about the drug being available for the study were positive.

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Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, said her organization was encouraged by the governor's comments and is optimistic that some sort of a compromise can still be reached.

"I absolutely think this is positive," she said. "We've known for nearly a year now that we have the votes in the Legislature. It's just a matter of getting the governor to let them work out the details."

Related Topics: TINA LIEBLING
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