ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Mothers tearfully described how their babies suffered as many as 100 seizures a day before receiving marijuana treatment as they begged lawmakers late Tuesday to legalize the drug for medical use in Minnesota.
Others told a state House committee how the drug helped alleviate pain and different ailments from suffered from cancer and glaucoma. One mother described watching her daughter's face disappear inch by inch as surgeons removed malignant melanoma, saying her child's pain and lost appetite was relieved only by medicinal marijuana. About half a dozen others said it helped their children's seizures.
"This is so not dangerous to our society. It's not," Maria Botker testified about pot treatment. "But it is so life-saving for our daughter."
Botker said her husband moved with their daughter to Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal, so she could receive treatment after more than a dozen medications failed to help. She said her daughter was having as many as 100 seizures a day until she started using a type of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web," which doesn't cause a high because of low THC levels but has normal levels of CBD, which isn't a hallucinogenic but helps with the illness.
She said her daughter, who began suffering seizures when she was 5 months old, now suffers sometimes only one a day.
The testimony helped convince the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee to approve a proposal that would allow doctors to prescribe patients marijuana. Those patients would receive a card enabling them to buy medicinal marijuana from approved dispensers, or patients could grow up to six plants themselves. The bill now goes to the House Government Operations Committee.
But the plan faces a long road ahead.
An informal coalition of law enforcement agencies, including county attorneys, sheriffs and police, issued a list of requirements for the bill, including that marijuana come in only pill, liquid or vapor form. The committee narrowly defeated an amendment that would have added similar language to the bill.
Champlin Police Chief Dave Kolb, co-chairman of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said law enforcement groups object to any bill they view as leading to the expanded use of marijuana.
"If the bill becomes truly medical, we'd be neutral," Kold told The Associated Press before Tuesday's hearing.
Opposition from law enforcement was a chief reason why then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a similar bill in 2009, and Gov. Mark Dayton has aligned himself with law enforcement on the current bill.
Kold also said the legislation needs to limit the ailments for which marijuana could be prescribed. He named multiple sclerosis and glaucoma as examples. Kolb said the bill's current standard of debilitating pain was "ripe for abuse."
Autumn Leva, legislative analyst for the Minnesota Family Council, testified to that point. She said that since Colorado passed its medical-marijuana law in 2000, 94 percent of those receiving permission to use marijuana were treated for chronic pain — not the grave illnesses many of those who spoke to the committee Tuesday depicted.
Kolb also said the bill needed to place medical marijuana under a pharmacy-dispensing regime comparable to the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program. That system helps prevent abuse of controlled substances such as Percocet, a painkiller.
"If they're going to treat it like a medicine, then treat it like a medicine," Kolb said.
Dr. David Thorson, chairman of the Minnesota Medical Association board of trustees, said his group hasn't yet taken a position on legalizing medical marijuana due to the lack of "evidence that's double-blinded to say where marijuana is truly a benefit for a variety of illnesses."
But Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a psychiatrist and internist who researches medical marijuana at the University of Arizona, said the paucity of data is because of one reason: The U.S. government approves projects that highlight marijuana's negative effects and blocks those that might show its palliative value.
"It makes it almost impossible to do medical-marijuana research," she told the committee.
Medical marijuana is allowed in some form in 20 states and Washington, D.C.