Minnesota pot debate centers on plant access

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ST. PAUL — With time running short, Minnesota lawmakers trying to come up with a medical marijuana bill that Gov. Mark Dayton would sign honed in on critical differences Monday between versions passed by the House and Senate.

At a news conference, Dayton said he hopes to get a bill “to help the people who need the help” without creating such wide access that the drug will fall into the wrong hands or be abused.

In their final week before the required adjournment, legislators are also pursuing a supplemental budget bill and a compromise on a construction borrowing package, but Dayton warned that one provision in that bill could provoke a veto. Proposed regulations of electronic cigarettes are also in play.

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Most of the drama, however, is around the marijuana bill.

The Senate, which favors more medical-marijuana distribution sites and more qualifying conditions, chose not to consider the House legislation Monday.

A substantial divide surrounds availability of parts of the cannabis plant itself.

Both measures allow patients to consume medical marijuana in pill, oil and vapor form. Neither permit smoking the drug. The Senate bill enables patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana plant material; the House proposal does not.

Dayton was equally insistent that the final law prohibit marijuana-plant material.

“It’s to me impossible to believe someone is going to buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana and not smoke it or not sell it to someone else who will,” Dayton said. “It just defies common sense in my judgment.”

Dayton sides with state law-enforcement groups, which oppose making raw plant material accessible out of concern it will lead to illicit use.

Dibble counters that the Senate legislation includes criminal penalties for anyone who uses medical marijuana not for medication. The House proposal does not.

On the construction bill, Dayton said Monday he was bothered by a clause related to home fire sprinklers.

Dayton warned that he would veto the bill over attempts to dump a pending requirement that new homes of a certain size be equipped with fire sprinklers. Some lawmakers want to stop the measure from taking effect over concerns it will add too many costs to home construction.

Dayton can’t use a line-item veto on that portion because no money is attached to the language.