HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Senate Panel OKs Medical Pot Bill
Pubdate: Wed, 06 Apr 2005
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2005 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Author: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


But Backers Say Final Passage Unlikely

Jerome Schaffer testified in front of a Senate panel Tuesday with
pride, hope and a little fear.

A cancer sufferer, he asked senators to give seriously ill patients
some protection from prosecution for using marijuana.

The 63-year-old military veteran told them he's used it, and it helps.
He has continued to use it despite his humiliation at being arrested
for possessing the illegal drug and his risk of further

The Senate panel voted to bar such arrests and passed a bill to
sanction marijuana's use for those with debilitating illnesses -- the
first committee vote on the measure in Minnesota after years of debate.

Backers say the bill probably won't pass all the legislative hurdles
this year. Even if does, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he is unlikely to sign
it into law."I'm not for it. I think we have enough other medicines
and pain relievers available that we don't need to use that one,"
Pawlenty said Tuesday.

But those testifying before the Senate Health and Family Security
Committee said other pain medications don't help them as much as
marijuana does. And they said they came to marijuana as a last resort.

"During my second round of chemotherapy, I decided to try medical
marijuana," said Sue Wild, who has a cancer that has spread through
her liver, bladder and colon, weakened bone marrow and lupus. "I was
initially skeptical, but I was willing to try almost anything at that
point. To my surprise, a small amount of marijuana following a meal
allowed me to keep food down."

Wild said her prescribed anti-nausea medications were overwhelmingly
powerful. Her doctor approved of her use of the illegal drug, she said.

'There are other pain medications that are currently available but
they don't all work for all people  Marijuana has been proven
effective for a number of patients," said Sen. Steve Kelley,
DFL-Hopkins and chief sponsor of the bill.

He said it is morally and ethically right to allow patients to use the
drug that best helps them in their time of sickness and suffering.

The measure would "do something to express our sense of compassion for
that suffering and do something practical to address it," Kelley said.

The measure, however, presents some practical problems.

It would allow people with specific debilitating illnesses, ranging
from glaucoma to multiple sclerosis, to register with the Health
Department in order to be able to possess marijuana. Police would be
barred from prosecuting those folks for their possession of up to 12
plants or 2.5 ounces of marijuana.

No state law could bar federal authorities from imposing federal
penalties on those registered patients for their drug possession. That
means federal law enforcement could prosecute people for something
that is legal in the state.

That conflict has led to a Supreme Court case. Two California women
sued federal agents to stop raids on medical marijuana patients'
plants. California is one of the 10 states that allow the use of
medical marijuana. That case may be decided soon.

The Minnesota measure would allow others to provide marijuana to
registered patients. The bill originally called those folks "primary
caregivers" but that terminology was changed in committee.

"I think we are using a euphemism here. It is a dispenser or supplier
or distributor," said Sen. Shelia Kiscaden, an Independence Party
member from Rochester.

The measure also steered clear of requiring a doctor's prescription
for the marijuana, since marijuana still would be an illegal
substance. Instead, patients would have to supply their medical
records or practitioners' certification that marijuana may help them
in order to be certified.

The president of the Minnesota Family Council told senators the bill
raises concerns about Minnesota's children.

"Legalizing marijuana, even for medical uses, sends the wrong message
to kids," said the council's Tom Prichard.

All of those concerns and complications likely will have to wait for
next year's legislative grappling. For now, the measure's committee
passage alone will have to be worth the risk that patients admitted
they took Tuesday in order to testify.

"Well," said Schaffer when asked about the risk. "You've got to do
what you think is right."
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