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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 21 2014

Dayton offers medical marijuana compromise

ST. PAUL – Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton prefers to launch two medical marijuana studies instead of legalizing it this year.

The studies would be about using chemicals in marijuana to help severely ill people, he said Friday. His idea could end chances of a medical marijuana bill that has stalled in the Legislature this year.

The governor suggests spending $2.2 million on a Mayo Clinic medical study about whether one chemical from marijuana helps children with types of epilepsy. Another $390,000 would be available for a study headed by the state health commissioner to look into what has happened in areas that already allow medical marijuana.

Dayton characterized the concept more of an idea than a specific proposal. His office hopes to hear back from medical marijuana proponents Monday.

"We wanted to be as helpful as we can be within the bounds of medical prudence," Dayton told reporters.

A bill allowing marijuana use to control seizures and serious pain passed one legislative committee, then stalled, mostly over concerns from law enforcement officers who do not want the plant version of marijuana used. The idea from Dayton, his staff and key commissioners would only provide for chemicals from marijuana to be tested at Mayo, not the plant itself.

The Mayo test would involve about 200 children ages 1 to 18, Dayton said. It would test a marijuana extract on children with severe epileptic seizures. It is not clear when results of the study could be available.

"This approach would allow us to address the problems of our most vulnerable patients, our children, and help us find safe and effective treatment consistent with the high standards of Minnesota’s nation-leading medical care system," Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said.

Another study, which Ehlinger would head, would involve a 21-member committee looking into patient experiences in places that allow some form of medical marijuana. The committee would look into whether medical marijuana use affects substance abuse and crime rates, and if it has led to any unintended consequences.

The committee is to analyze "the benefits, costs and risks of medical marijuana," Ehlinger said.

Ehlinger's committee is to present a preliminary report to the Legislature by Feb. 15 next year and a final report a year later.

Dayton Chief of Staff Jaime Tincher said that she and key commissioners have been meeting with legislators and others interested in the issue.

“The administration is considering ideas that could pass during this legislative session," Tincher said. "It is my understanding that key stakeholders in the law enforcement and medical communities, including the Mayo Clinic, would support and advocate for the approach we are considering."

She said meetings on the issue will continue next week.

Dayton warned that the idea faces some issues, including the fact that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.