In October, the Obama administration announced that the federal government will not prosecute users or distributors of medicinal marijuana as long as they follow state laws, the latest part of a trend that has seen several states, including Minnesota, take an increased interest in the issue.
Currently 13 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use — last Tuesday, Maine voters decided to extend the state’s 10-year-old medical marijuana law.
In 2008, two-thirds of Michigan voters approved the use of medical marijuana, and in Wisconsin, legislation is being drawn up for medical marijuana use there.
The Minnesota Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill this year, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it.
Brian McClung, a spokesman for Pawlenty, said the governor will only support a medical marijuana bill if it has the backing of law enforcement.
The bill’s author said he will likely propose it again this spring, but the controversial bill could still garner more opposition.
“Marijuana is a drug which has dangerous consequences for society and I don’t think it’s a wise move to legalize it,” Tom Prichard, president of Minnesota Family Council, said.
Prichard, who testified last year against the bill, believes there are medical alternatives to smoking marijuana such as Marinol, a pill composed of active ingredients from marijuana.
But bill author Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said these alternatives are very costly and are not always the best resort.
“Lunch isn’t a big deal until you can’t eat it,” Murphy said.
Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project also agrees that medical marijuana is a much more effective form as opposed to pills.
Mirken said there are ways to avoid any possible health risks associated with the drug.
Medical marijuana users can purchase a machine that “vaporiz es” it by heating it without using flames. This eliminates tar and other feared consequences that are connected with smoking marijuana.
Mirken says these vaporizers are often marketed underground.
“It’s another example of laws causing harm to people because if you say it’s for medical marijuana, it becomes drug paraphernalia,” Mirken said.
In any new marijuana bill next session, Murphy said he plans to include minor tweaks like beefing up security requirements for people who are growing marijuana.
Murphy and supporters have been looking at medical marijuana bills in other states and Murphy said they have the basis for a bill that they will try to pass next session.
Prichard said he has long feared that support for medical marijuana is only a pretext for efforts to more broadly legalize marijuana.
“That’s not why we’re in the game,” Murphy said. “We want to provide doctors another tool in the toolbox.”
Gregorio Cervantes, vice president of the University of Minnesota’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, said he believes that not only should marijuana be legalized for medicinal use, it should also be legalized for regular consumption.
Cervantes points to the illegal drug trade that has claimed thousands of lives in the past decade.
By legalizing marijuana and regulating it, Cervantes said he believes that not only will it take a lot of power away from drug organizations, but it will also generate tax revenue that can be used for schools or transportation.
Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Cervantes said: “’Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes .’”