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Medical marijuana backers meet with Dayton, turn from angry to hopeful

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Supporters of medical marijuana took their case directly to Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday.

After a demonstration in front of the Governor's Residence during which they chided Dayton for refusing to endorse their cause, 11 of them were invited into the mansion for a private meeting with the governor, the Star Tribune reports.

FOX 9 says the advocates emerged from the two-hour meeting optimistic that a bill can still gain legislative approval this year.

Gov. Dayton issued a statement saying that he was grateful for the opportunity to meet with the group and that he'd ordered two top staff members and Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger to continue meeting with them in hopes a compromise can be reached.

The advocates arrived at the governor's St. Paul home bearing signs urging Dayton to stop bowing to law enforcement.

Dayton has said he will not sign a bill legalizing medical marijuana unless it has the support of police and sheriff's departments. The author of a House bill, DFL Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing, has been meeting with law enforcement groups in hopes of reaching a compromise but pulled her proposal off the table this week, expressing frustration that the talks were going nowhere.

Northland's News Center reports that in talks over the weekend supporters of the bill removed a provision to let patients ingest the drug by smoking but the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association did not soften its opposition.

Supporters of legalizing the medical use of marijuana say the drug can provide relief to patients struggling with conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, and AIDS. Law enforcement groups worry about the potential for abuse if medical marijuana becomes legal.

The executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, Dennis Flaherty, tells the Pioneer Press he welcomes the news that the health commissioner is getting involved in the conversation. "Unfortunately, all of the people in the health community -- up to this point, they've been hiding while this discussion has been going on," Flaherty said.

The Minnesota Medical Association has not taken a formal position on the medical marijuana bill, but a spokesman for the group tells the Pioneer Press that may happen this weekend. He says the Association's public health committee has recommended opposing the measure. Many doctors are leery of endorsing the use of medical marijuana because of a scarcity of research, he says.

Before the advocates arrived at his home – where the governor is recovering from hip surgery – Dayton said in a conference call with news reporters it's unlikely that a medical marijuana bill will be approved this year. MPR quotes Dayton as saying "It's just not going to happen this session."

That pessimism was missing from the statement he issued after meeting with the group. And the supporters he met with had also changed their tone when they emerged. Patrick McClellan tells City Pages Dayton was "extremely gracious."

The Star Tribune says McClellan suffers from ailments including multiple sclerosis. He told the newspaper after meeting with the governor, "I'm really optimistic that we can make significant progress and we can pass this bill."

Similar optimism came from Heather Azzi of the group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. She told the paper "This is about taking law enforcement's veto pen away. The governor offered us a new negotiating partner today."

MPR says Rep. Melin continued to downplay the prospects of a bill passing, saying she would not spend time pushing for a measure the governor won't sign. "I personally have no interest in giving patients false hope that something could happen if it's not going to happen," she told the network.


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