Winona (MN) Daily News, March 30, 2005
by Chris Hubbuch
State Sen. Robert Kierlin of Winona has co-authored a bill to protect seriously ill people from prosecution for using medicinal marijuana.
Although federal law bars all use of the drug, states have passed laws to exempt seriously ill patients from state-level prosecution. Minnesota would become the 11th state to enact such a measure if Kierlin's bill, introduced Tuesday, passes the Legislature.
"It's a question of compassion," the Republican said. "With terminal illnesses, if there's any chance to solve any of the pain problem with any drug we should give it a shot."
Sixty percent of Minnesotans say they would support a law to allow people with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses to use marijuana for medical purposes with physician approval, according to a recent poll conducted by Zogby International. The same poll showed that in greater Minnesota about
29 percent of people said they would be less likely to vote for a representative or senator who voted against a medical marijuana bill.
"There's a feeling that every legislator should be extremely tough on every drug," Kierlin said, acknowledging that such proposals are controversial.
Kierlin said he signed on to the bill, authored by Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, only after the language was tightened to allow only people with terminal illness or extreme pain to use the drug with their doctors' consent.
"Cancer is not a partisan disease," said Neal Levine, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C., organization that works to decriminalize marijuana.
Marijuana can relieve pain, nausea and muscle spasms and can stimulate appetite. It is often used to treat patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and epilepsy.
Levine estimates that hundreds of seriously ill Minnesotans now secretly use marijuana to treat their symptoms.
"It's just a sad situation," Levine said. "People shouldn't be treated like criminals just because they're trying to alleviate their pain."
Similar bills have died in the Legislature in past years. Most of those bills have been authored by urban DFL legislators, said Levine, a former Minnesotan.
This bill is the first with bipartisan and out-state support, Levine said.
Levine is hopeful that if the bill does not pass it might get to a committee vote and "build up some steam" for next year.
Reporter Chris Hubbuch can be reached at (507) 453-3511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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