Range lawmaker, family key to medical marijuana win

This piece is cross-posted with my Up North Report blog at the Star Tribune.

These hearts are easy to find around my workplace, where many have been closely following the medical marijuana debate in St. Paul. The Weavers and their daughter Amelia, from Hibbing, were at the center of the debate, which culminated in a compromise bill that the governor is expected to sign.

These hearts are easy to find around my workplace, where many have been closely following the medical marijuana debate in St. Paul. The Weavers and their daughter Amelia, from Hibbing, were at the center of the debate, which culminated in a compromise bill that the governor is expected to sign.

Yesterday, House and Senate leaders announced they had a deal to allow medical marijuana in Minnesota. Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would sign the bill, which allows for two major medical marijuana producers to be created in Minnesota, and eight locations to serve as dispensaries. The commissioner of health has new leverage in issuing eligibility requirements. The bill includes pills, liquids and vaporized marijuana, nothing that can be smoked. As the Star Tribune indicates, it legalizes forms of cannabis but would be the strictest medical marijuana law in the country.

At the forefront of this debate were three figures: Gov. Dayton, who previously opposed any marijuana bill, State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and State Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing). Earlier versions of the bill were much more permissive, allowing patients more flexibility in how they got their prescriptions. Dayton wanted nothing to do with those bills, as the law enforcement lobby was strongly opposed and he bases his position on what will work for law enforcement. The issue was almost left for dead, until the relentless lobbying of families who believed their sick or disabled children would benefit from medical cannabis reinvigorated the issue. Dibble’s Senate bill was considered the most favorable one for pro-cannabis advocates, but it was Melin’s that was crafted most specifically to win the governor’s signature.

Melin was in the crucible for most of the debate because she was the one seeking the deal that would pass into law. Gov. Dayton has a reputation for being a moving target on this issue, so the challenge was significant. The Star Tribune detailed some of this in a recent profile of Melin. It’s worth a read.

I’ve refrained from covering the marijuana issue for a few reasons. One, I’m not as informed on it as I should be. I had mixed feelings on the topic coming from a family that has faced significant drug and alcohol addiction. And one of the families that were most vocal on the issue included Josh and Angie Weaver from Hibbing, whose daughter Amelia would qualify for a medical marijuana treatment that could ease her crippling seizures from a rare condition. I work with Josh at Hibbing Community College and know the family. To be frank, I wanted to avoid the conflict of interest, though I privately empathized with the Weavers.

Knowing the situation as I do, what the Weavers did was absolutely amazing. Despite the crushing difficulty of all the driving between Hibbing and St. Paul, they maintained rigorous pressure on lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Believe me, these are not political people. They did this on their own. This Iron Range family, and their state representative Carly Melin, are among the key reasons this bill passed, which is a rather unexpected entry in the log of Range political history.

This video from The Uptake shows the press conference unveiling the compromise bill and Gov. Dayton’s announcement he’ll sign it.

Not everyone regards this outcome as a victory. Many in law enforcement and most prohibitionists believe medical marijuana opens a floodgate of potential problems. Further, many pro-marijuana advocates regard this law as hollow and cumbersome for people who actually need access to medical marijuana. Melin, in particular, drew a surprising amount of scorn from liberals over her willingness to cut a deal to pass something out of this session.

Here are my thoughts as someone who started out pretty agnostic on the marijuana issue (never smoked it, don’t need it, didn’t have an opinion until recently).

What became evident early in the session was that Carly Melin was advocating the bill very specifically for families like the Weavers. It was personal for her, and holds no particular political value in her Iron Range district, except to those who know the struggles the Weavers have faced. Some say that her championing of the issue was part of her long term statewide political ambition, but I don’t know that she made many new friends in this process, so I discount that.

Carly Melin’s strength is tenaciousness and her weakness is defensiveness. Both of those traits came out in the closing days of the marijuana debate, evidenced here, and that caused her to become the top target from dissatisfied people on both sides of the issue. In essence, Melin was simply approaching her job as she normally does, with a lawyer’s mindset, as though a bill was a legal argument. Now, a bill is not exactly a legal argument. Politics encompasses more than that. Still, if anyone was upset about Melin’s maneuvering during the closing days of the debate, no one should have been surprised. She methodically adjusted tactics to achieve a strategic goal: which, again, was quite simply to help as many patients as she could, the family from her district specifically, without triggering a veto from Gov. Dayton.

So we got a very strict law, but it won’t be overturned. Some patients are left hurt, angry and disappointed, but some got vital help. In coming sessions, the law will be loosened as the state and country’s attitudes about marijuana laws relax. The screaming and yelling now will subside. Melin’s argument is going to be that she did the best she could in the circumstances. That’s probably true. For medical marijuana supporters, Dibble’s Senate bill was certainly better … but would have been vetoed. And a veto would be a very different story this morning.


  1. Sally Jo Sorensen says

    Thanks for the link.

    For the purposes of clarity–since you had such close knowledge of the Weavers family–do you know when Josh first sought Melin’s help in legalizing cannabis? Since you’ve disclosed the work relationship and the wrangling is over, I don’t see how that disclosure can be considered in any way a conflict of interest.

  2. I don’t know the timeline of when they asked for help. I know that they’ve had a very difficult time since Amelia’s seizures started shortly after she was born. I know there’s a lot of intrigue over the hows and whys and who-was-involved-in what. I’m not up on all that. It’s an instance where I withheld the normal treatment of an issue on the blog because I worked with the guy and didn’t want to step in anything, which is why I stated the conflict of interest.

    • Sally Jo Sorensen says

      That’s an odd notion of conflict-of-interest by a blogger who frequently writes about Range politics from a personal level. Indeed, the local and personal touch is one of your great strengths as a writer and journalist, and since the Weavers’ story has touched so many people’s lives, I’m not sure how an up-close view would have harmed the cause or community. You’ve been very good about disclosing conflicts of interest that you do have on other issues (as in covering elections while being the campaign manager for a DFL legislator).

      Nor is the establishment of a clear timeline “intrigue” but rather basic tool of journalistic inquiry. Admittedly, investigative blogging/journalism doesn’t form the major part of Minnesota Brown’s content. Thank God for that–singular and distinct voices in Minnesota are to be cherished.

      • Thanks, Sally. Like I said, I saw this gelling long before it became a medical marijuana issue, per se. When I first saw the Weavers take their case to the public, my instinct was to sit back. I’ve been busy and didn’t want to write constantly on a new cause. As I wrote, I wasn’t sure about the issue or the science. I’m properly convinced of the potential benefits of medical marijuana now, but didn’t know when the right time to jump in the quickly changing debate. Well, I did now. You and others have been more critical of Carly Melin than I would have been, and I’m not saying that to defend her — she’d be quick to point out that she doesn’t need that — just that I don’t think she earned as many lashings as you and others have leveled on her. I say that from a place of respect for your work.

        • Sally Jo Sorensen says

          It’s not your style to be harsh on anyone, so I’m not surprised at the defense of Melin; it’s not much different in kind from an earlier defense of Jason Metsa after an anti-Polymet advocate confronted and videotaped him. Sulfide mining is an issue that you’ve investigated and written about extensively, so I don’t see your lack of earlier engagement with medical cannabis issues as leading this post (and that about Metsa) so much as a temperamental predisposition toward mildness.

          Indeed, jumping in after a question is settled to very gently chastise Melin’s critics illustrates this endearing quality of the blog and your writing. Next to Senator Scott Dibble, you might be the best exemplar of the virtue of kindness and moderation in public debate in the state. Given the legacy of the Hinckley Fire, there’s ample reason to avoid being a firebrand in your neck of the woods.

          • Oh, jeez, that Metsa post came off as defending him? He didn’t handle that situation very well, though I’m no fan of Ness’s tactics, either.

            I’ve been compared to Bob Newhart. Maybe that’s just my shtick. 🙂

          • Sally Jo Sorensen says

            Aaron, there are far worse things to be compared to than Bob Newhart. Intelligent humor, great timing, ability to deadpan. . .what’s not to like about that?

  3. Noah Hanson says

    I think it’s quite possible that Melin’s tailoring to get this passed will look much better in the future. It’s a foot in the door that will be opened further in the near future. She did what she had to to avoid a veto and Dayton probably would have vetoed it. I say probably because politically it would have been suicide to veto even Dibble’s much better version. Dayton really lost face because of this and Carly Melin is a large reason for it. Early in the battle I was amazed at the way she took on law enforcement and even called them out for not wanting medicall cannabis because it would lose them funding. Mark Dayton comes out of this looking like a fool controlled by special interests. He has proved this time and time again. E.g. vetoing Kriesel’s fireworks bill because of the Firemans association. I can sag this much he will never get my vote again, but if I lived back in Melin’s district again she would definitely get mine.

    • Noah Hanson says

      And after rereading my comment above I realize that I should go back to using a computer and a keyboard to comment. Strange sentences, poor disconjointed flow, autocorrect failures, and no way to edit once posted, all make for a terrible composition. This age of the smartphone certainly has it’s drawbacks.

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