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Robert Capecchi: ‘Reefer madness’ scare-tactics reappear in Minnesota

Robert Capecchi

WASHINGTON — Since November 1996, 20 states and Washington, D.C., have amended their criminal laws to exempt seriously ill patients from liability for the limited medical use of marijuana.

These states learned from one another, so their specifics vary. But they all provide patients with legal protections for both using and obtaining medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.

Minnesota currently is debating medical marijuana, yet despite broad popular support, opposition from law enforcement and Gov. Mark Dayton threatens to derail the process, leaving many patients helpless.

Last spring, a bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers representing all regions of the state introduced a medical marijuana bill that was based largely on the tightly regulated programs operating in Arizona and New Mexico.

HF 1818 and its Senate companion, SF 1641, would allow only certain patients with specifically listed medical conditions (such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease and epileptic disorders) to obtain and use limited amounts of marijuana if their doctors recommended them to do so.

The legislation requires the Department of Health to regulate and oversee medical marijuana dispensaries, ensuring that patients are able to get medicine that has been tested, labeled and grown under known conditions.

The legislation originally allowed patients who live far from a dispensary to cultivate a limited number of plants for their personal medical use.

Despite bipartisan support in the Legislature and strong polling on the issue across the state, Dayton initially conceded his veto pen to Minnesota’s law enforcement groups, who routinely have refused to negotiate in good faith with potential medical marijuana patients, their families and advocates from Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.

After a nearly two-hour, closed-door meeting with those in support of medical marijuana, the governor seemed to soften on the issue by directing his commissioner of health and chief of staff to work out a compromise that would result in a workable yet responsible law.

Although he seemed to kick law enforcement officials out of the negotiating room, their ideas still taint the process. The governor’s office still opposes use of whole plant marijuana. Law enforcement’s solution was to offer a proposal that would, in very limited situations, allow patients to get and use oils high in CBD, one of the many cannabinoids found in marijuana.

For many reasons — lack of legal access to these oils being the most pressing — this proposal is unworkable.

The second prong of the governor’s approach allocates research money to the Mayo Clinic to examine what effect marijuana oils high in CBD have on individuals suffering from intractable epilepsy.

While we fully support research, this could take years, and participation would be severely limited.

The seriously ill in Minnesota deserve a vote on a workable medical marijuana bill. Advocates pushing for passage of a medical marijuana bill have offered a compromise that prevents anyone from growing their own medicine and makes it a civil offense to smoke marijuana.

While unnecessary, we find these concessions reasonable.

Limiting medical marijuana legislation to protect only those who use high CBD oils while continuing to criminalize use of natural marijuana is unscientific and nothing more than 21st century “reefer madness.”

According to noted Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the dozens of cannabinoids found in whole plant marijuana, when working together, provide greater therapeutic benefits to the seriously ill than do individually isolated cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. This is called the entourage effect.

By offering legislation that allows patients to use only a specific component found in whole plant marijuana, as opposed to allowing the use of the whole plant, the governor has found a neat way to feign compassion while slapping hands with law enforcement behind patients’ backs.

Minnesota law should reflect what has worked in other states. The programs in New Mexico and Arizona are operating responsibly and effectively while allowing patients to use marijuana in its natural form.

Yes, more research needs to be conducted, but not at the expense of bringing relief to thousands of Minnesotans, for whom all other options have failed.

It is time to start listening to the patients. It is time to pass a workable medical marijuana bill.

Capecchi is deputy director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. 

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