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Lawmakers reach medical marijuana deal

By Don Davis, Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota patients with some severe medical conditions likely will be able to use medical marijuana for relief next year.

State House and Senate votes are planned Friday on a compromise announced Thursday afternoon. Supporters expect the bill to pass.

The compromise calls for two manufactures with eight distributions points around the state. It would not allow smoking marijuana or use of the plant, although it would allow whole-plant extracts that could make users high.

Law enforcement groups are expected to remain neutral on the issue and Gov. Mark Dayton announced his support after saying for weeks that he cannot back a medical marijuana bill that lacks law enforcement and medical organizations' support.

"I look forward to signing this bill into law," Dayton said, pledging that his administration "will do everything possible to implement it as swiftly and successfully as is possible."

House bill sponsor Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said that today "is an exciting day for a lot of people."

She said about 5,000 Minnesotans are expected to take advantage of medical marijuana when it is available in mid-2015.

Medical marijuana could be used to treat some cancer that is accompanied by severe pain, nausea or severe vomiting; glaucoma; HIV-AIDS, Tourette's syndrome; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; severe and persistent muscle spasms such as those in multiple sclerosis patients; some forms of seizures; Crohn's disease; and terminal illnesses accompanied by some specific complications.

Today's announcement came after weeks of on-again, off-again discussions about whether to allow marijuana to be used for children with seizures, people with extreme pain and other medical issues believed to be eased by smoking marijuana or using extracts from the plant.

The final deal was worked out in secret among the proposal's supporters.

The House and Senate last week passed differing versions. Neither chamber's bill allowed marijuana to be smoked, but the Senate approved allowing plants to be used in water vaporizers to get the chemical to the patient. The compromise allows pills and liquid forms of marijuana.

Dayton has said that allowing the medical marijuana plant to be sold was a prime concern because it could be smoked or sold for a profit.

Another major difference between House and Senate bills was that the House only allowed three places for people to buy marijuana pills and liquids in the state, while 55 were approved in the Senate measure.

The medical marijuana discussion began its way through House and Senate committees earlier this year, but ran into problems in the House. Senate committees did not immediately take up a bill.

After Dayton accused lawmakers of "hiding behind their desks" on the issue, and saying he doubted it would pass this year, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, greased the skids and the Senate bill began its way through several committees.

The House bill got a boost from leaders and it took an abbreviated trip to the full House.

Both chambers overwhelmingly passed their initial bills.