ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Advocates for medical marijuana attacked Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday for failing to support their cause, with one mother lashing out angrily over what she said was the governor's suggestion that she buy marijuana illegally to treat her 2-year-old son's intractable epilepsy.
At an emotional news conference, the advocates bared a split between their groups and the governor that opened after they felt he blamed them a day earlier for not embracing a limited proposal to research medical marijuana.
One of the parents, Maria Botker, said her epileptic daughter Greta, 7, needs help now, not years in the future when Dayton's proposal might yield results.
"My daughter doesn't have time to wait and she shouldn't have to suffer," said Botker, 38, who in November moved with Greta from Ortonville, Minn., to Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal. Since then, Greta's seizures have decreased by more than 80 percent, she said.
Wednesday's events came against the backdrop of Dayton's apparent shifts on medical marijuana during the last two weeks. Until earlier this month, Dayton had said he would not support a medical-marijuana bill that did not have the backing of state law-enforcement groups.
Last week, Dayton announced he would be requesting $2.2 million for a medical-marijuana research project. Then on Tuesday, Dayton said in a radio interview that chances for the project being approved were "slim and none" due to objections from medical-marijuana advocates with epileptic children.
Dayton issued a statement Wednesday seeking to clarify his remarks, saying he didn't mean to refer "to victims of terrible diseases or their parents, who I was trying to help." Dayton went on to say that he has been unfairly portrayed as the "sole barrier" between sufferers and medical marijuana, and said that though he still has concerns about the issue, he urged advocates and legislators to work on some compromise this year to bring relief to suffering children.
The governor's statement came out about the time advocates were holding their news conference. Several parents sobbed during their prepared remarks.
One mother who met with Dayton earlier this month said Dayton had told her to buy marijuana illegally to treat her son.
"He told me, 'You can buy it on the street. It's decriminalized in Minnesota. There's a good distribution system here already,'" Jessica Hauser, 36, of Woodbury, told The Associated Press in an interview.
She said he also told her another option would be to buy it another state where medical marijuana was legal and bring it back to Minnesota.
"I told the governor that was unacceptable," said Hauser, who has another son who is 5. "I shouldn't have to become a criminal to help my son. I could lose both my children."
Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson first released a statement that said the governor doesn't advocate breaking the law. Later, Swenson clarified that Dayton spoke with a woman in private but wouldn't say whether the governor advised her to buy marijuana illegally.
Hauser said Dayton made the remarks in front of several other medical marijuana supporters at the meeting. Heather Azzi, one of those supporters, confirmed Dayton's remarks.
Buying or selling 1.5 ounces or fewer of marijuana in Minnesota is a petty misdemeanor. Carrying marijuana across state lines is a federal crime.
A fact sheet released on Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Health stated that officials from the agency and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., have spoken with London-based GW Pharmaceuticals officials about obtaining marijuana to study. Health department officials also have spoken with officials from Colorado and the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md., to acquire marijuana for research, the fact sheet said.
Clinical trials would begin six to eight months after approval of the study, the fact sheet said. The document did not provide a date when medication might be available for patients.
A father of a 14-year-old epileptic boy from Plymouth, Minn., said in a phone interview that he supported Dayton's research idea.
"With any medication, there are always side effects, so you have to know what the potential results might be," said Marcus Fisher, 41. He said his son takes Depakote and another medication for epileptic seizures. Those drugs have reduced the frequency of the seizures, he said.
"Those have been effective for about two years," Fisher said.