The Mankato Free Press
---- — When Minnesota lawmakers return from their spring break, one of the issues they may face is medical marijuana. This has been kicked around too many times. We feel it deserves to be pushed from committee and debated on the floor.
The issue has been treated like a hot potato over the years. The Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill in 2009 only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
When it re-emerged for this session, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would not approve any legislation that didn’t have law enforcement approval. That might as well have been a veto because law enforcement voices have said they opposed it outright as nothing more than expansion of drugs in the state. Attempts were made to negotiate with law enforcement officials but there was no budging.
When the heat was applied, however, Dayton sought $2.2 million to study the medical benefits for medical marijuana. Then the governor challenged lawmakers to stop “hiding behind their desks” and deal with the issue. We couldn’t agree more, since there appears to be bipartisan support to deal with this.
A bill by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, would allow the use of up to 21/2 ounces of cannabis purchased from a state-licensed dispensary, the number of which would depend on the size of the county.
Doctors would have to certify particular patients would benefit from such treatment. Dibble’s bill allows for marijuana to be smoked.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, has a bill in the House that would broaden the proposed law by tracking from seed to sale but would not allow smoking. It also would require companies wanting to grow marijuana to be licensed and plants cultivate in a controlled conditions. There would be no private cultivation and carries penalties for smoking even for medical reasons.
This isn’t an issued in which law enforcement should have veto power; it is a legislative issue. While law enforcement should have a voice, the ultimate decision should rest with the elected representatives. Enough kicking this can down the road. There has been significant interest in this legislation and enough for a reasonable debate on the floor.
Better to take half a hit
Across the country, states are moving to ease punishment for recreational pot use and to make medical marijuana more available. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the drug and are regulating and taxing it like alcohol. With the legislative landscape in such flux, and public opinion shifting quickly in the direction of leniency, Maryland faced a real challenge in getting its laws right. After some anguished back and forth, it did so, mostly.
The bill that emerged from the General Assembly, which Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, said he will sign, is a major change. Until now, those convicted of possession of small amounts of pot could face jail time, though as a practical matter most have been put on probation, at least for the first offense. Convictions constituted criminal offenses, staining the records of many young adults.
As with gay marriage, Americans’ attitudes toward marijuana have evolved with breathtaking speed. A poll by the Pew Research Center, conducted just over a year ago, found that 52 percent of the public supported legalizing marijuana, a jump of 20 percentage points since 2002. Among younger Americans, about two-thirds favor legalization.
Given that movement, Maryland could have gone the way of Colorado and Washington. Wisely, lawmakers demurred. Allowing retail outlets to sell the drug may turn out to be harmless, though we have our doubts; plenty of evidence suggests that the drug’s use can have harmful health effects and can contribute to traffic accidents and fatalities. Better to watch the results from Colorado and Washington before following them blindly.