The medical marijuana law passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law recently by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is a carefully crafted compromise unlike any other medical marijuana law in the country. As such, many Minnesotans are unsure exactly how it will work and how effective it will be.
The compromise was crafted after differing bills passed the House and Senate and law enforcement opposition backed by a threatened veto from Gov. Dayton forced the Legislature to come up with a conservative compromise that could be signed into law. Supporters hope if all goes well and law enforcement fears are unfounded, the law could be expanded to cover more people and more good things will come.
The law doesn’t allow for smokable marijuana, a sticking point for law enforcement groups, rather it permits patients to use only the oil and pill form of cannabis. Patients wouldn’t be allowed to possess any actual marijuana plant material.
The oils and pills would be made available to patients suffering from nine different medically diagnosed conditions, including cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s Syndrome and seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy and terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year, if the illness or treatment produces severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting.
Medical marijuana proponents had wanted the inclusion of a larger number of conditions, including those suffering from PTSD. However, law enforcement groups wanted the number limited in scope.
Minnesotans for Compassionate Care was among a group of organizations pushing to get a medical marijuana bill passed. While they say the law is a step in the right direction, they do have some criticisms.
“It’s a really good example of why we shouldn’t take medical advice from cops. Forcing patients to use a more concentrated substance than what they need is not appropriate. It’s just that simple,” said Heather Azzi, Minnesotans For Compassionate Care’s political director.
“And allowing any patient from the state of Minnesota who has glaucoma to obtain extracted cannabis oils only because they have glaucoma is not good policy.”
Moorhead Police Chief David Ebinger was a part of a law enforcement coalition that did not want to see a law passed that was modeled after states like California. He feels states like that are using medical marijuana as a ruse to allow for recreational use of medical marijuana. Ebinger said police are seeing medical marijuana grown from those states sold illegally in Minnesota.
“The key here is compromise,” Ebinger said. “There needs to be an effort to identify and to work with the medical needs that came up during the Legislative session. I think this is a fairly good compromise limiting it to pills and to the oils, limiting it to manageable number of distribution points and having some oversight and regulation on the distribution of the substances.”
After a patient is diagnosed with a covered condition by a healthcare provider, the patient can be enrolled in a registry program by the Minnesota Commissioner of Health who issues a verification of it. The patient then is able to receive medical cannabis for their condition at one of eight distribution facilities set up by state-approved medical cannabis manufacturers. Most registered patients will pay an annual fee of $200 to participate. The purpose of the registry program is to provide state officials with a study of what works and what doesn’t under the law, a research component that law enforcement wanted included.
The law goes into effect July 1 at which point the Commissioner of Health begins setting up rules for the program as well as soliciting request for proposals for businesses that will set up the dispensaries and growing operations. If all goes according to plan, the law states it requires manufacturers to be able to provide medical cannabis by July 1, 2015.
One of the authors of the compromise was Senator Scott Dibble (DFL- Minneapolis), a supporter of medical marijuana who worked hard to come up with something the Governor would sign into law.
“Hopefully we can build on it in the future, expand the conditions maybe go to a different model, making sure we get the kinds and forms of cannabis that we really need to work for them, get more places where people can go to get their cannabis,” Sen. Dibble told HPR.
One aspect Senator Dibble is upset about is the fact that only nine medical conditions were approved.
“Some conditions were just dropped from the list like PTSD, people with intractable pain, when that pain is not attached to a diagnosis of terminal illness or cancer, people with chronic nausea, people with chronic wasting when either of those symptoms aren’t attached to cancer or a terminal illness,” Sen. Dibbie said.
“That’s a lot of people. We shouldn’t be leaving those folks behind.”
Chief Ebinger feels more research needs to be done on the effectiveness of medical marijuana treatment for PTSD.
“You look at New Mexico, I believe about 80 percent of their distribution goes to PTSD and pain. It sounds to me like that’s pretty wide open to interpretation … you get some doctors that want to give anybody and everybody a pass on this. There’s really no consequences for that in a lot of states. And you see some widespread abuses in states like California,” Ebinger said.
The bill does direct the Commissioner of Health to consider the addition of other conditions, particularly intractable pain, by July 1, 2016.
Minnesotans for Compassionate Care did an analysis of how many will benefit from what was passed and determined it could help 5,000 Minnesotans versus a more expansive bill passed by the Minnesota Senate that would’ve helped 38,000.
Will the law that passed actually help sick Minnesotans who need it?
“Of course it helps,” Azzi said. “The parents of the sick children were only half of the advocates that were there at the Capitol day in and day out.”
“There was a large group of patients that worked very hard on this together and every single one of them deserves recognition. Even when their conditions were cut from this bill, they still stood up and advocated for parents who would be protected. They all became very close and it was a wonderful process to witness. And I think that’s why the victory is so bitter sweet even for the people who are receiving help under the house bill. They are not celebrating now because they’ve become close to people who have been left behind so it’s very bittersweet ultimately.”
Whether or not this law can be expanded remains to be seen as well. There still remains significant gaps on whether or not enough research has been done on the effectiveness of medical marijuana between supporters and law enforcement groups.
It seems clear law enforcement groups may never support a smokeable form of medical marijuana for patients either. However, medical marijuana supporters feel because it has such widespread support across the state, if this law is shown to do some good, or doesn’t go well because of what was taken out, supporters will be vindicated and their position will only grow.
Perhaps it’s telling that Gov. Dayton didn’t hold a signing ceremony for the bill when it passed. It was reported a ceremony could come at a later date. However, upset those upset by the compromise may have caused some to not want to attend. Though Dayton did issue a statement after signing the bill.
“I thank everyone who worked together to craft and pass this legislation,” said Governor Dayton in a public statement. “I pray it will bring to the victims of ravaging illnesses the relief they are hoping for.”
The only thing everyone agrees on is they hope that relief comes.
by Sabrina Hornung
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