Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he is taking seriously DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's comments at a press conference earlier this afternoon that lawmakers should take a vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana.
In the past, Bakk said he did not see the point of allocating committee hearing and floor time to a measure that would be vetoed by the governor. But he said the governor's comments today change all of that.
"I have less anxiety now that he is going to veto it now that he's actually asked us to move it," Bakk said.
During the press conference, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said it is legislators responsible to try to work out a compromise on legalizing medical marijuana.
"Let's see 'em a vote. They have hidden behind their desks for the whole session while I've taken this on," Dayton said.
Previously, Dayton has said he would not sign a medical marijuana bill unless it had the backing of law enforcement. He also proposed a $2.2 million study led by the Mayo Clinic to research the possible medicinal benefits of CBD, a chemical derivative of marijuana, for treating children with epilepsy. But medical marijuana advocates opposed the study arguing legislation needs to be passed this year that would help all patients.
A hearing has been scheduled Thursday morning on the medicial marijuana bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. Bakk said if the bill clears that committee it would then head to the Senate Rules Committee. He said he expects the committee would hold a hearing on the bill after the Easter/Passover break and would vote to suspend the rules to allow the bill to continue to advance since the policy bill deadline has already passed. It would then need to clear three more committees.
"Unless it fails in one of the committees, I expect it is going to end up on the floor of the Senate," Bakk said.
He added that he supported legislation in 2009 to legalize medical marijuana that was vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his wife is a very strong supporter of the measure. She works for the Senate and has met with many of the families who say this legislation is needed to ease the suffering of their loved ones.
Bakk said he expects the scope of Dibble's bill will probably end up getting narrowed. He said he talked with the House bill author Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, about the most up-to-date language that has been negotiated with medical marijuana supporters.
"A lot of work has been done to try and find something that people thought the governor and law enforcement could support," Bakk said. "I expect the Senate now will try to pick up where the House left off on the issue based on the governor's renewed interest."