ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With a push for legalizing medical marijuana stalled this session, Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday he would ask for $2.2 million for research into its possible benefits.
Mayo Clinic would head the study, which would focus on cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, a marijuana compound that does not produce a high.
The medical marijuana bill has languished in part because law enforcement opposes it. Dayton himself made his support conditional on law enforcement. He said the research is something law enforcement would accept, and offers the best chance for something that can pass this year and eventually help some sufferers.
“We wanted to be as helpful as we can be in the bounds of medical prudence, especially children who are suffering,” Dayton said. “If we can help a couple hundred or more young children with epilepsy, that’s important to do.”
The draft legislation was discussed with supporters of legalized marijuana on Thursday at a meeting that included several of Dayton’s commissioners. Rep. Carly Melin, a Hibbing Democrat sponsoring a bill to legalize medical marijuana, said she wasn’t involved.
Dayton would use $2.2 million from the state general fund, plus another $400,000 for a report examining “the likely health impacts of expanded use of cannabis for medical purposes in Minnesota,” according to the draft bill. The document also allows Mayo researchers to seek grants to add more funding.
In the main research, scientists would explore how CBD might alleviate “intractable epilepsy,” or epilepsy that other types of medication do not affect and includes extremely frequent seizures. It would include clinical trials involving children from 1 to 18 years old.
Kevin Goodno, a lobbyist for the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota in St. Paul who attended the meeting, said the proposed research is a positive step.
“Any money dedicated to research either to control seizures or find a cure is very generous,” Goodno said. “We support it in concept and will be looking at details to provide feedback on how it could be improved.”
But Angela Garin, a medical marijuana supporter who was also at the meeting, expressed doubts about the value of the research.
Her 5-year-old son, Paxton, has a brain abnormality called polymicrogyria, which causes intractable epilepsy, cerebal palsy and autism. Medical marijuana has decreased his seizures by 88%, Garin said.
But she said her son hasn’t been on CBD, so she doesn’t know if that would work for him. She was disappointed that was the only research specified in the bill.
Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care and another attendee of the meeting, also had reservations. The governor’s proposal is based on the 1980 THC Therapeutic Research Act, she said.
“Unfortunately, that program still has not provided medical marijuana to a single patient in Minnesota because it requires cooperation from the federal government,” Azzi said.
Both she and Garin said they intended to continue working for Melin’s bill.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he wants to vote on a medical marijuana bill this year and would find money in the budget for a study if that’s what could gain the governor’s support.
“Clearly for a lot of Minnesotans the quality of their lives can be improved,” Bakk said.
Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger would head the health-impact study and would appoint a 21-member advisory committee. An interim report would be due Feb. 1, 2015. The final report would be due on Feb. 1, 2016.
“We are hopeful that we will come to a solution that will help children who are facing very serious and debilitating medical ailments and give policy makers better information upon which to base decisions about medical marijuana,” Ehlinger said.
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