ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP/WCCO) — Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday downgraded the chances of medical marijuana becoming legal in Minnesota this year before he met privately with those who want the drug to be a treatment option for people with debilitating diseases.

In his most expansive public comments to date, Dayton aired his concerns about government’s ability to oversee distribution and about whether there has been adequate research to determine what doses are effective or dangerous. He said any bill allowing smoking of marijuana “is just not going to happen” this year. A deal on other forms of drug delivery remains elusive, largely due to continuing opposition from law enforcement.

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Dayton opened up about a personal tug between giving comfort to those in pain and his constitutional oath to watch out for broader public safety concerns. A bill legalizing medical marijuana stalled this week in the Legislature, and Dayton says he won’t sign legislation police oppose.

“Nobody wants to be in a position of causing anybody undue suffering or standing in the way of anybody’s suffering being relieved,” Dayton told reporters on a conference call. “But you’re talking about making law and public policy for 5.3 million people. You have to weigh in the balance what the experts say are the gains for how many people and what they say are the likely losses for how many people.”

The political drama wasn’t confined to the  Capitol Thursday. A group of medical pot advocates who arrived at the Governor’s Residence for a protest ended up finding themselves inside, talking to Dayton for two hours.

“The stories in there were extremely emotional,” said Patrick MacClellan of Bursville, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. “A lot of them are very personal and very private. So a lot of us were overcome with emotion throughout whole conversation.”
The advocates, some of them with debilitated children, tried to convince Dayton to support legalizing medicinal pot, which they say they need for chronic illness and pain.

They got a sense from Dayton, they said, that he is not against it — just uncertain about how to regulate it.
“My heart is just very full of hope that our governor heard us loud and clear,” said Jessica Hauser of Woodbury, whose son Wyatt has a rare form of epilepsy and suffers from as many as 100 seizures a day.

Following the meeting, the governor’s office issued a written statement, which read in part:

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“Governor Dayton was grateful for the opportunity this afternoon to spend time with these Minnesotans, and hear their stories. Following the meeting, the Governor said it was difficult to see that so many good Minnesotans are enduring such pain and suffering.” 

Toward the end of the lengthy call with reporters, Dayton scrambled to clarify a remark that at first appeared to advocate people who want marijuana for medical reasons take their chances and buy it on the street.

“The fact is you can go out in any city in Minnesota, I’m told, and purchase marijuana. And if you possess less than an ounce of it, an ounce-and-a-half of it, it’s a petty misdemeanor. It’s a traffic ticket,” Dayton said.

When pressed on that comment, Dayton said drug dealers should be fully prosecuted and that people buying marijuana take on risks of their own.

“I’m saying the law is the law. A petty misdemeanor for less than an ounce-and-a-half, then that’s the way the law reads and that’s what it should be. If you’re transporting large amounts of marijuana or any other illegal substance in this country then you should be apprehended and prosecuted,” he said.

“I’m not advocating anybody do whatever it is they do. I’m just pointing out the reality in our society.”

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