Legislative Notebook: Medical Marijuana Bill Introduced … For Debate Next Year

By  Don Davis and Danielle Killey

People who have serious chronic illnesses such as cancer or multiple sclerosis could legally use marijuana to manage symptoms under a bill proposed in the Minnesota Legislature, a proposal even its supporters say will not see the light of day until next year.

“It’s about quality of life,” Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said.

Patients would have to have prescriptions from their doctors and would get state identification cards to access small amounts of marijuana from licensed facilities.

Melin said the industry would be tightly regulated.

Supporters say marijuana can ease symptoms such as pain and nausea.

“I saw with my own eyes that for medical purposes, marijuana works,” said Joni Whiting of Jordan, whose daughter Stephanie had skin cancer and used marijuana to cope with symptoms. “Medical marijuana made life bearable for my daughter in her final few months.”

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said the bill sponsors want to work with law enforcement agencies, which generally have opposed the proposal in the past, to try to find a solution.

“I think that we should leave making medical decisions up to doctors, not to law enforcement,” Melin said.

The lawmakers who introduced the bill Thursday said they do not expect a vote during this session but are laying the groundwork to take up the issue next year.

“We’re just introducing it now to get the discussion going,” Melin said.

No gun debate

House leaders say they do not plan to bring up a bill requiring more Minnesotans to undergo background checks before buying guns.

The year began with some Democrats pushing for major control initiatives, including banning so-called assault weapons and large-capacity bullet magazines. Such efforts quickly stalled and with strong pro-gun lobbying, it now appears no gun-related bills are likely this year.

Gun-control supporters are not happy.

The Minnesota Gun Violence Prevention Coalition’s executive director said the bill is needed.

“This extremely popular and effective measure is being derailed by a small group of out-of-touch legislators, and there is no excuse for that,” Executive Director Heather Martens said.

Martens disagreed with House Speaker Paul Thissen’s explanation of what happened.

“It is not the case that both sides were unwilling to compromise,” she said. “Even though we wanted an assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines, as does the majority of voters, we supported a middle-ground universal background check bill that is supported by a supermajority of voters.”

BP-A ban OK’d

A chemical many scientists say can harm children would be banned from some products under a bill senators approved 41-23 Thursday.

Bisphenol-A already is banned from children’s cups and bottles, and the Senate bill would ban it from cans of baby food, formula and the like.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said BP-A is linked to obesity, reproductive and behavior problems.

However, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said there is no proof BP-A is harmful.

“I just worry that we continue to go down this slippery slope where we make Minnesota an island in banning these products…” Rosen said. “There really is no alternative out there.”

Sieben countered that there are alternatives.

The House overwhelmingly supported the bill.

Nursing study ordered

Senators on Thursday agreed 36-25 with representatives who earlier voted to order a hospital nurse staffing study.

The bill is a shell of how it started earlier this year, which would have established a quota for how many nurses would have to be on duty.

The $252,000 study would look into the relationship between staffing levels and patient outcomes. The report is due back to the Legislature in two years, and could result in future quota bills.

The bill also requires each hospital to issue a staffing report so the public knows how the facility operates.

Rural senators complained that the bill would stretch already small hospital staffs even thinner.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said that “since Minnesota is a leader in health care, we thought it was critical” to see how nurse staffing affects patients’ welfare.

Dayton signs bills

Gov. Mark Dayton signed several bills into law this week, including:

— Licensed dietitians and nutritionists can write prescriptions to help manage diseases such as diabetes.

— The Family Reunification Act gives a legal pathway for some teens to contact parents whose rights have been terminated.

— Minnesota senior citizens will be able to give others the right to sign checks, but not be an account owner.