The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 28, 2013

Debate medical marijuana

19 states already have medical marijuana laws

The Mankato Free Press

---- — There’s never a bad time to have a debate about health care issues that could improve the lives of sick patients.

That’s why Minnesota should debate the legalization of medical marijuana. A bipartisan group of legislators will be introducing a bill next year that would allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. So far, law enforcement in the state and the County Attorneys Association opposes such a measure.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he will stick with law enforcement on this one, but seems to leave open the possibility that if law enforcement can be satisfied with certain safeguards in the legislation, he might go along with it.

Medical marijuana laws are on the books in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio, and last year the states of Washington and Colorado passed ballot measures that allow legalization of marijuana in general, not just for medical purposes.

The Minnesota supporters of medical marijuana legalization include DFL Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing and Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar. The Minnesota Independence Party actually added support for full legalization, taxation and regulation of marijuana to its party platform, according to the MPR report.

Melin described her support in a Minnesota Public Radio report as “compassionate care” and allowing doctors to prescribe medication that will help patients. Hackbarth told MPR the proposed medical marijuana bill he is backing represents one of the strictest bills in the country. The legislators are not supporting full legalization.

Medical officials have supported the use of medical marijuana to ease suffering of patients with debilitating diseases. There seems to be a growing public support for the use of medical marijuana.

More than three years ago, a poll by the Pew Research Center showed a full 73 percent of respondents favored legalizing use of medical marijuana if it was prescribed by a doctor.

Pew said the support for legalizing medical marijuana crossed all demographic and political groups and was also popular in states no matter what their current laws on the subject were.

Law enforcement has legitimate concerns about making a drug like marijuana much more available that it has been in the past. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom told MPR marijuana can be a gateway drug to uses of other more dangerous substances. He worries legalization of any kind will create a lot more problems.

The debate is worth having. There are plenty of states that have been allowing the use of medical marijuana for years. There should be plenty of information and data on the impact of these laws on law enforcement, the courts, crime and drug abuse.

There are plenty of legal drugs out there right now that probably can be shown to create as many problems. Alcohol is readily available and consumed in large quantities and is a known to be the cause of a large number of drinking and driving fatalities. Prescription drugs, it seems, are more and more abused and falling into the wrong hands.

It’s likely that some states have fashioned their medical marijuana laws to be fairly restrictive and vigorously enforced for abuses and violations. The limited legal use of medical marijuana may give Minnesotans a feel if they really want to consider full legalization as well. It would taking baby steps with introduction of a drug that can be dangerous.

All questions worth asking. Given the health benefits of medical marijuana for patients who are suffering, it’s worth considering the pros and cons in a serious debate.