Should Minnesota legalize marijuana for medicinal uses? The issue is steaming along at the Capitol. On Tuesday, it passed through a Senate committee. Today, the bill got an OK from a House committee.
“I spent the last eight years in the nursing home with my aunt and my mother, also at the end of my fathers life, I watched them in a lot of pain and taking a lot of pills,” Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said. He’s sponsoring the proposed legislation. “I just think there’s a better way for some folks to address their pain and medical marijuana is legal in 13 other states and there’s overwhelming public support.”
Like many bills that make annual appearances at the Capitol, the arguments on both sides were predictable, but no less emotional with every story.
Kathy Rippentrop, whose mother was diagnosed with colon cancer, described her mother’s slow death. “Mom tolerated the first round of chemo, but the pills to control vomiting cost $100 each. Mom was withering away to nothing with no appetite.”
Her father, a recovering alcoholic and drug user, got some marijuana from a friend. “The only miracle drug for cancer is marijuana,” she said. “My father will tell you how ironic it is that the government is concerned about the pain of a murderer, but makes the only cancer drug that reduces pain against the law.”
Joni Whiting told the story of her 26-year-old-daughter, Stephanie, who was diagnosed with skin cancer and died six years ago. “They cut her face off one inch at a time until there was nothing left,” she said. Despite being told by a doctor that smoking marijuana would ease her pain, neither Whiting or her daughter could break the law. By the time she died, Whiting said, her daughter was taking 50-60 Oxycontin pills a day.
“The fear of being caught was significant,” she said of her and her daughter’s initial decision. That changed when someone left a bag of marijuana on the front step. By the end, Whiting said through tears, her daughter couldn’t “stand the pain of us touching her.”
“To threaten the sick and dying with jail is unconscionable,” she told the House Civil Justice Committee. “What would you have done if you were in my shoes. What price would you be willing to pay to relieve the pain of a loved one. I was the one who listened to her scream in pain.”
But Michael Campion, the state’s commissioner of public safety defended the state’s position on legalization of marijuana. “There is an absence of any empirical data that this legislation is going to do what it intends to do; there’s a lot of anecdotal stories but the AMA and the FDA have not endorsed the smoking of marijuana,” he said. “It’s against federal law and it puts the federal justice system in conflict with our state partners.”
An ex-drug dealer testified briefly that if the law is enacted, “people will kick the door in to get those plants in.” Under the bill, people would be allowed to grow 12 plants of marijuana.
Another man, Jim Fahiz, testified he blew a hockey scholarship at the University of Minnesota because he smoked marijuana. “I’ve known thousands of drug addicts,” he said, “and every one of them started with marijuana.”
The bill passed the committee on a voice vote without opposition.
A similar bill passed through committees in the House last year but never came up for a vote on the House floor.