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Capitol Chatter: Marijuana issue remains clouded at Legislature

ST. PAUL — News from the past few days is sure to enter into Minnesota legislative debate as some lawmakers push to allow marijuana use by children with seizures and people suffering severe pain.

Perhaps the most discussed topic will be a new study news agency covered: “Young, casual marijuana smokers experience potentially harmful changes to their brains, with the drug altering regions of the mind related to motivation and emotion, researchers found.”

It had been thought that only heavy pot users suffered long-term problems. But Northwestern University’s Science Newsline indicated the study showed otherwise.

“Some of these people only used marijuana to get high once or twice a week,” study co-author Hans Breiter told Newsline. “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

Supporters of medical marijuana no doubt will say that smoking pot for recreation is different than what they plan.

The first difference, of course, is that only a narrow range of the population would be allowed to use medical marijuana. And while work remains before a final bill is written, if that even happens this year, much of the discussion centers on people using marijuana extracts in pills or ground marijuana in water vapor to help patients. Smoking is little discussed.

A marijuana story similar what is happening in Minnesota also is going on in Georgia. reports that Gov. Nathan Deal “is working on a way to legalize medical marijuana for treatment of children with seizure disorders after a bill to do so died in the Georgia Legislature last month.”

When a Minnesota bill encountered legislative problems, Gov. Mark Dayton suggested that Mayo Clinic study the medical marijuana issue on 200 children with seizures. He said that could help those 200 kids, even before the study was completed. Medical marijuana supporters criticized his idea.

A third marijuana story comes from Colorado, the first state to tax legalized recreational marijuana sales. State officials expect to bring in an estimated $98 million in revenue this year, exceeding the state’s original predictions by 40 percent.

Although supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Minnesota plan a Capitol rally Wednesday, there is no serious discussion among legislators about that.

Medical marijuana legislation stalled in the Legislature until Dayton told reporters that lawmakers were “hiding behind their desks” from the issue. That prompted Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, to kick the issue into committee meetings.

The Senate measure awaits a vote, while a House bill sits in a committee.

Dayton says he will not sign a medical marijuana bill until law enforcement and medical organizations get behind one.

Revenue looks at returns

The April 15 tax deadline is in the rear view mirror, so Minnesota Revenue Department officials can take more time looking at already-filed income tax returns to see if taxpayers are due larger refunds than expected.

The Legislature approved tax breaks weeks before the deadline, after half of the returns already had been filed, so Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans promised that his staff would recheck returns to see if those already filed qualify for the new tax breaks, and thus should get money back.

The first thing that Frans says is that taxpayers need not file an amended return yet, and probably not at all. Revenue officials will adjust most returns and issue refunds if needed.

In some cases, Frans’ staff will contact taxpayers for more information. And some people will be notified to file an amended return because state employees cannot make the necessary changes.

The Revenue Department advises that taxpayers who have changed their addresses recently to let the department know so refunds and other correspondence goes to the right place.

No sex offender fix

Nearly 700 Minnesota sex offenders living in Moose Lake and St. Peter hospitals may be watching legislative developments with more interest than usual this year.

A federal judge has ordered the state to improve its sex offender treatment program, or he may take over. While he has not said what he would do if he ran the program, some people tell Minnesota officials that one possibility is mass release of offenders.

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators blame each other for failing to fix the program, and there are no signs that much will happen this year other than funding a study the judge ordered.

The lack of action is part of the campaign for governor.

GOP candidate Rep. Kurt Zellers, for instance, said there is no disagreement about the need to reform the program, but “the focus cannot be continued finger-pointing from the state’s chief executive and his apparent lack of interest in doing anything other than releasing a violent serial rapist into our communities.”

Feds order railroads

The federal Surface Transportation Board has ordered the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. and BNSF Railway Co. to report how they plan to make sure farmers get fertilizer shipments delivered on time for spring planting.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., pushed the board to take the action after what he calls “poor” rail service that has plagued farmers, businesses and Minnesota communities.

In addition to fertilizer, other freight and passenger rail services have been delayed. BNSF told Minnesota legislative committees that harsh winter weather mostly is to blame, but many lawmakers say railroads’ priority on delivering western North Dakota crude oil takes precedent over other rail traffic.