Minnesota lawmakers struck a deal Thursday to legalize medical marijuana, handing a major victory to severely ill children and adults whose emotional appeals for help propelled a major policy change that once appeared dead for the session.
Gov. Mark Dayton said he would sign the legislation, which was closer to the House's more restrictive bill than the Senate's. Some patients lamented that the agreement doesn't allow them to use actual plant material — they instead can use the drug in oil, pill and vapor form — but others were overjoyed.
"This will change my daughter's life and thousands of lives around Minnesota," said Angie Weaver of Hibbing, whose 8-year-old daughter is afflicted by a rare form of epilepsy.
The compromise bill allows for two manufacturing facilities and eight dispensaries statewide, more than the House bill called for. But it covers fewer conditions than the Senate favored. Its prohibition against using plant material disappointed some advocates, who said vaporizing the leaf or smoking the drug were the only ways some patients could get relief from their maladies.
One sign of the difficulty advocates had in winning over lawmakers is that Minnesota is the only state to explicitly ban smoking of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states simply don't include smoking among approved methods for delivering the drug.
Eight medical conditions would qualify for treatment, including cancer, glaucoma and AIDS, with a possible ninth if the health commissioner acts on a House amendment requesting that "intractable pain" be considered as a justification.
Patients would receive an identification number if a doctor, a physician assistant or advanced-practice registered nurse certified a qualifying illness existed. Health-care providers would provide treatment data to the Minnesota Department of Health to enable researchers and policymakers to determine the medical effects of cannabis treatment.
Background checks would be required for those working at the manufacturing sites and dispensaries. Anyone participating in the medical marijuana program caught using cannabis for non-medical purposes would be ousted and subject to criminal penalties.
Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.