The Minnesota Medical Association says it prefers a bill for medical marijuana that’s scheduled for a vote Friday in the House, saying cannabis legislation passed by the Senate earlier this week is “overly broad in scope.”
The House bill from Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, would make marijuana available to certain patients from one state-regulated manufacturer.
Patients would be enrolled in a research registry run by the Minnesota Department of Health to collect data on the effectiveness of medical cannabis.
Gov. Mark Dayton has pushed for a compromise on medical marijuana that law enforcement groups can live with. Those groups say they are neutral on the House bill, but oppose legislation from Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
“Ideally, the approval of new medications for the treatment of serious conditions would remain within the scientific, not the political, arena,” wrote Dr. Cindy F. Smith, president of the physicians group, in a May 7 letter to Melin. “Given the options on the table, however, the MMA finds the House proposal to provide a more useful, measured approach.”
Dibble’s bill would provide access to medical marijuana through a state-regulated network of up to 55 dispensaries across the state. Patients with a slightly broader set of conditions than those in the House bill would have access to medical cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.
“Many doctors and other medical and health organizations have expressed support for my bill,” Dibble wrote Thursday in an email. Saying he’s not involved in an adversarial process with the House, he added: “We are working towards a compromise that both of our chambers can support.”
Neither bill allows patients to smoke marijuana; both bills let patients take cannabis in the form of liquids and pills. The Senate bill would let patients vaporize liquids, pills and marijuana leaves; the House bill doesn’t allow vaporization of the marijuana leaf or plant.
The Minnesota Medical Association, which is the state’s largest lobby for physicians, says it prefers Melin’s bill because doctors aren’t asked to recommend marijuana for patients. Instead, physicians would certify that patients have one of eight conditions spelled out in the House bill.
The Senate bill provides marijuana access to patients with those conditions as well as people with intractable pain, severe nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Under the House bill, the Health Department would select the state’s sole cannabis manufacturer, which would be required to provide a reliable, ongoing supply of medical marijuana to patients by July 1, 2015.
“The (medical association) finds the Senate bill to be overly broad in scope and prematurely labels marijuana as a ‘medication’ to treat patients…,” Smith wrote. She added: “The Senate bill aims to insert physicians into the role of certifying the value of marijuana for patients with serious conditions — a role physicians cannot fulfill due to the absence of FDA approval and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I (illegal) substance.”
Twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia already have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, said Karmen Hanson, who tracks the issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Another seven states this year have passed laws that allow access to a form of marijuana that has diminished psychoactive compounds and is thought to help children with seizure disorders, Hanson said.
Children with seizure disorders have been at the forefront of the debate in Minnesota. Some families have moved to other states, or are contemplating doing so, to receive a liquid form of medical marijuana that they say provides symptom relief.
Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at 651-228-5479. Follow him at twitter.com/chrissnowbeck.
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