MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota senators on Tuesday advanced a bill that would make physician-prescribed medical marijuana legal for a broad range of patient suffering, joining more than 20 other U.S. states.
Senators voted 48-18 to approve the bill, which received bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The bill differs sharply from a state House of Representatives proposal to make medical marijuana available through a research study.
Democratic Senator Scott Dibble, a bill sponsor, had urged approval of the measure, "in the name of compassion, the name of having access to something that can make a real difference for the better for some people."
In opposing the bill, Republican Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen said he was concerned Minnesota was, "taking baby steps toward legalizing recreational marijuana in the state."
Ingebrigtsen, a former sheriff, pointed to initial approval of medical marijuana in Colorado and Washington state that was followed later by approval for recreational use by adults.
Patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions, or from severe pain, wasting or nausea from medical treatments could obtain prescriptions under the Senate medical marijuana bill.
The bill would permit up to 55 dispensing centers around Minnesota. The health commissioner could approve other centers and make other conditions eligible for medical marijuana.
Patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana at any one time. The marijuana could be ingested in various forms including pills or oils, or vaporized by heating it to just shy of combustion to release the compounds.
Smoking the marijuana would be prohibited under either the Senate or House bills under consideration.
The bill in the state House of Representatives would allow Minnesota children and adults suffering from severe illnesses to take part in a research study of medical marijuana in a pill or liquid form. The state health department estimated that about 5,000 people would enroll in the study.
(Reporting by David Bailey)