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Student Questioned About Dad's Use Of Pot


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The controversy surrounding a bill to allow the use of medical marijuana hits home for a junior-high student in Brooklyn Park.

Shannon Pakonen told a House committee Thursday that his 15-year-old son, Sam, was interrogated this week by a teacher at Brooklyn Junior High School in Brooklyn Park about his father's use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The incident, Pakonen said, demonstrates the need for legislation to authorize medical use of the drug.

Lisa Hunter Jensen, the Osseo School District's director of school/community relations, said the district had only sketchy information about the incident from the school's principal but said the district is investigating the matter further.

Telephone calls and e-mails to the school's principal and assistant principal as well as the Osseo School District's superintendent and school board members were not returned Thursday.

Sam Pakonen was pulled out of math class and told to report to his speech teacher, his father said. While there, the teacher asked him about his father. Were there marijuana plants in his house? Did he ever see his father smoke pot?

No, he replied.

That was on Tuesday. Two days earlier, Sam's father, Shannon, had been quoted in a Star Tribune story about a bill in the Legislature to allow the use of medical marijuana in the state. He was quoted saying he occasionally used marijuana to reduce tics and spasms caused by Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder. Shannon Pakonen had also testified in support of the bill last month in a Senate committee hearing.

On Thursday, Shannon Pakonen relayed Sam's story to members of the House Health and Human Services Committee, which took testimony on the medical marijuana bill and could vote on the measure as early as today.

"My son should not have to be treated like a criminal on the basis that he is my son," Pakonen told the committee.

Sam Pakonen was in the audience. After the hearing he retold the story. He said he was told to report to the speech teacher because his physical education teacher reported having difficulty understanding him. He was born prematurely and has several developmental disabilities. While he said he sometimes has difficulty with his speech, the physical education teacher had never made that claim in seven months of having him in his class.

The speech teacher asked the questions about the marijuana.

Measure stirs controversy

Shannon Pakonen, who said he obtains the marijuana from friends and does not smoke it in front of his son, said the actions at the school help illustrate the problems associated with the medical use of marijuana today.

A proposal that would have Minnesota join eight other states in approving such use has bipartisan support in the House and Senate but Gov. Tim Pawlenty opposes the measure, fearing that it sends the wrong message about the dangers of the drug.

Other opponents, such as the Minnesota Family Council and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, have testified that marijuana could end up in the wrong hands.

Pakonen said he called an assistant principal at the school to complain on Wednesday and was told the physical education teacher was curious because she suffered from chronic pain. He was told that Sam had brought up the issue of medical marijuana. The boy said that never happened.

"I think they were trying to make the case to take my son away from me," Shannon Pakonen said after the hearing. "They want to victimize someone. I was going to be punished for exercising my right to speak out."

While unfamiliar with the specifics of the case, Barry Feld, a professor at the University of Minnesota law school specializing in juvenile justice, said police, teachers or other people in authority have a right to ask about allegations of impropriety, particularly if it involves potential child abuse or neglect.

"They would certainly be in a position to ask the kid about what goes on in the house," Feld said.

But Feld said there are statutes protecting family communications from being used against someone.

"It's to encourage kids to talk to their parents about problems," he said.

One of the measure's supporters is Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, a former House speaker who once opposed the use of medical marijuana but has since signed on as a co-author.

"This is an example of why we need to pass this kind of bill," Sviggum said after being told about the school incident.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
Author: Mark Brunswick
Contact: mbrunswick@startribune.com
Copyright: 2007 Star Tribune
Website: StarTribune.com
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