(Adds comment by governor in paragraph 4)
MINNEAPOLIS May 9 Minnesota state Representatives on Friday approved a bill that would establish an observational research study to make medical marijuana available in liquid or pill form to patients suffering from one of several severe illnesses.
Representatives voted 86-39 on a bipartisan basis to advance the bill, which differs from a measure state senators approved on Tuesday that would make physician-prescribed medical marijuana legal for a broad range of illnesses.
More than 20 U.S. states have approved medical marijuana on a broad basis and others on a narrower basis, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The two versions had bipartisan support in the Democratic-controlled legislature. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton said in a letter on Friday to sponsors of both measures that he would sign the House bill if the legislature approves it.
"I know it's easy for us sometimes as politicians or legislators to just tell people that we'll wait another year, but these families can't wait another year, they need relief now," said Representative Carly Melin, the bill's sponsor.
Patients would have to be Minnesota residents and register with the state health department to receive medical marijuana from licensed pharmacists under the bill. The health department estimated that about 5,000 people would enroll.
Participants would have to be diagnosed with one of several conditions that include seizure disorders, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other disorders that cause severe muscle spasms, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, HIV and AIDS.
Patients would be allowed to vaporize the cannabis, but would be prohibited from smoking it and would not be allowed to use the plant or leaf form.
The Minnesota Medical Association supports the House proposal, but not the Senate measure, which would make medical marijuana legal on more broad terms.
Patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of marijuana at any one time under the Senate bill, which calls for up to 55 dispensaries around Minnesota.
Patients could ingest the marijuana in various forms under the Senate proposal, including heating the leaf form to just short of combustion, but smoking would be prohibited. (Reporting by David Bailey, editing by G Crosse and Mohammad Zargham)