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Compromise on medical marijuana in Minnesota gaining ground

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Supporters of medical marijuana say the upcoming legislative session, which opens this week, could be the best chance in years to see marijuana legalized in Minnesota for medical use.

Gov. Mark Dayton has urged supporters to negotiate with opponents in law enforcement to reach a compromise, and that effort could finally be gaining momentum, the St. Cloud Times reported.

State Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing Democrat who's the lead House sponsor of medical marijuana legislation, has made no progress negotiating with law enforcement groups who steadfastly oppose the move. But Melin is working on a much narrower proposal that would allow only the use of some non-narcotic, marijuana-derived chemicals, and some of those groups are willing to consider that option, MPR News reports.

The state association of police chiefs is open to discussing allowing extracts in pill, liquid or inhaler form, she said.

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association is also open to the idea. Executive Director John Kingrey said his group still opposes any bill making it legal to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, but extracts might be a viable compromise.

"We are very sympathetic to those individuals that suffer from debilitating conditions," he told MPR. "Marijuana has about 150 compounds in it, and if you can distill some of those elements and it does not include the THC component and if it is effective to treat certain illnesses, we would not be opposed to that."

Kingrey pointed to a recent, similar proposal in Georgia that would allow the limited use of a cannabis oil for the treatment seizure disorders.

Melin said she's glad to see both sides moving toward common ground. But she said other states that have legalized medical marijuana haven't followed this specific course so it's hard to say whether it's actually feasible, according to the Associated Press.

She also said some patients who need immediate relief or who can't swallow medication might need marijuana that can be smoked.

Minnesota lawmakers voted once before to legalize medical marijuana in 2009. But then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill, citing law enforcement concerns.

Dayton expressed similar worries. He said he'd only sign a bill that the law enforcement community can support.

Law enforcement groups have said if marijuana is legalized for medical purposes it would still find its way into schools and neighborhoods. They also say marijuana's medical value remains unproven, and they worry that legalizing it under a medical exemption will lead to full legalization.

Polls consistently have shown most Minnesotans support legalizing medical marijuana.

A St. Cloud State University survey conducted last fall that asked respondents if they support “making marijuana legally available for doctors to prescribe” found a 76 percent of respondents in favor, with just 20 percent against. A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll conducted this month found a slimmer majority supporting the move, with 51 percent backing it and 41 percent opposed.

 Twenty other states and Washington, D.C., allow medical marijuana in some form.

Melin told MPR a hearing on the revised proposal will likely come soon in the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee.

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