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House committee approves medical marijuana bill

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A committee in the Minnesota House approved a bill Tuesday night that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted to refer the bill to another committee -- the first of many legislative steps facing the measure, KARE 11 reports.

The vote came after three hours of emotional testimony from patients and their loved ones who said marijuana is often the most effective way to treat the symptoms of a variety of health conditions, according to KARE.

"I am no longer willing to support making criminals out of the sick and dying," said Joni Whiting, 58, of Jordan, whose adult daughter used marijuana to deal with melanoma symptoms during the last months of her life, the Pioneer Press reports.

"We're separated because of the laws of this state," said Maria Botker, 38, of Clinton, whose 7-year-old daughter lives in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal and is used to treat the girl's seizure disorder, according to the Pioneer Press. "This is so not dangerous for our society. ... But it is so live-saving for our daughter."

Rep. Carly Melin's bill, House File 1818, would allow patients with some debilitating health conditions access to certain amounts of marijuana. The bill defines a debilitation disease as "including, but not limited to, cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, HIV, seizures, and other commissioner-approved conditions or treatments."

Patients and caregivers would need ID cards issued by the state Department of Health, which also would regulate a network of dispensaries, according to the Pioneer Press. Those living 15 miles or more from a marijuana dispensary would be allowed to grow a limited amount of marijuana, according to supporters of the bill.

The legislation "would allow legal, safe and regulated treatment for patients who need ... treatment with medical marijuana," Mellin said during the hearing, according to the Pioneer Press.

The Legislature approved a medical marijuana bill in 2009, but then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the measure because of objections from law enforcement groups. They remain staunchly opposed to legalization because of concerns over unintended consequences — including the danger of more drug-impaired drivers on the roads, and teens gaining easier access to the drug.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is also leery of legalizing marijuana, and has said he wants proponents of the bill and law enforcement officials to work out a compromise.

Tuesday’s hearing, however, was focused solely on the health implications of legalizing the drug. Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson lined a table with the pill bottles he was prescribed to treat his glaucoma, and said his doctor confided that he would have preferred to just prescribe him marijuana instead, the Star Tribune reports.

“I have less vision than I should” because the doctor couldn’t prescribe the drug he wanted, Johnson told committee members.

Autumn Leva, appearing on behalf of the Minnesota Family Council, said her organization opposes the bill for several reasons, including the lack of testing and approval process by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which applies to other prescription and over the counter drugs, KARE reports.

One Republican lawmaker offered an amendment that would limit marijuana therapy in Minnesota to forms of the drug that are not smoked, but taken in other forms. That amendment failed on a vote of 8-10.

Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and under debate in a dozen others this year, according to the Star Tribune.

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