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Minn. Senate Panel Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A big step forward for medical marijuana was taken at the State Capitol on Friday.

A powerful Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana bill, resurrecting its chances this session.

Kathy Engstrom and her 16-year-old son, Nolan, went to the Capitol to support it. She’s hoping a marijuana compound can relieve her son’s medical condition.

“Nolan has uncontrolled seizures,” said Engstrom, who is from Rogers. “And we’re hoping that if we have an opportunity to try it, we will have positive results.”

The Engstroms were among several families watching the debate over what they believe is their children’s future.

Supporters of medical marijuana from other states told lawmakers it hasn’t been a problem.

“We have a mature medical marijuana program that people aren’t afraid of anymore,” said Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The sky hasn’t fallen in these 20 states that have laws on the books.”

The Minnesota bill would allow some patients with specific medical conditions legal access to marijuana. They’d first need a doctor’s certification, and receive marijuana from a tightly-regulated dispensary.

But skeptics say none of it is based on science, and the medical benefits are unknown.

“And without the scientific data, then we will never get to that point,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, (R-Rochester).  “We will continue to practice what would be kind of like the wild west of medicine.”

Some of the families say they’ve already moved part-time to other states for legal access to marijuana.

And some parents, like Kristy Pauling of Montevideo, say they’ll keep bringing their kids to the Capitol until it passes.

“We’re fighters,” she said, “and we’re going to continue to fight for our children and everybody else who needs this.”

The bill, which passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on a bipartisan 7-3 vote, still faces an uphill battle.

But the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Dibble (D-Minneapolis) said he will try to get a vote by the full Senate in May.

Sick people urgently need it now, he says.

“They either have to go to another state, separate themselves from their lives and their families, or they have to simply suffer,” Dibble said.

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