Debate gets emotional for legislators

By Don Davis

Rep. Leon Lillie set the stage for a memorable and emotional Minnesota legislative debate.

“This stuff is personal,” the North St. Paul Democrat said Friday of discussion about allowing medical marijuana use in Minnesota. “This could be us.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, rose and in a tear-filled, emotional speech made it clear the debate was about him.

For years, those around the Capitol have known Hamilton has multiple sclerosis, one of the medical conditions that compounds made from marijuana could treat under the bill representatives overwhelmingly passed.

The issue arose 10 years ago, when Hamilton was a freshman lawmaker. He gathered his children, in fourth and sixth grades then, and let them know: “I would qualify.”

His son said: “Dad, I think I could support anything that could make you feel better.”

His daughter countered: “Even if it turns dad into a pothead?”

Hamilton voted against medical marijuana then.

He recently asked his son and daughter about the issue again. His son said the same thing. His daughter, studying medicine at the University of Iowa, said more study is needed.

As a parent, however, Hamilton said that he looks at things differently than his daughter. He said that he talked to parents of children who suffer seizures that could be controlled by marijuana chemicals.

“Through the eyes of a parent, my position began to change,” he said, looking into the House gallery at those who met with him. “I want to thank you for sharing your story.”

Hamilton also told of working with a man addicted to heroin, which is similar to medicine doctors may prescribe. With that background, he said, Minnesotans should stop using the term “medical marijuana.”

“We don’t refer to it as ‘medical heroin,’” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said his son told him that he will be referred to as a flip-flopper after opposing the plan a decade ago.

“As the information is presented to you, it is the responsible thing to take that information,” Hamilton said, still holding back tears. “You know, there are some who would believe the world is flat. Only a fool or a dead man never changes his mind.”

“I’m proud to be a flip-flopper on this issue,” he said.

Rep. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, got up in the quiet House chamber.

“I’m a flip-flopper, too,” the Cottage Grove police officer said.

A year ago, Schoen said, he thought medical marijuana was “a sham. It’s just a cover.”

Then, he added, like Hamilton he heard stories and Melin convinced him that the bill “was going to be one of the toughest and strictest in the country.”

He agreed with Hamilton that the “medical marijuana” term should be changed: “Can’t we just rename it because when you say ‘marijuana’ people get freaked?”

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, told of being on a heart transplant list at age 15, with his mother at his side in a hospital more than five months.

“The daily routine would be me throwing up and her crying,” Zerwas said.

He recently asked his mother for advice on the medical marijuana bill: “My mom said, ‘Nick how can you not help people who are so desperate for help? When you were 15 and you were that condition, I would have done anything to help you, anything, because you are my son.”

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