Minnesota: Advocates Welcome 22nd Medical Marijuana State, Object To Restrictions

MinnesotaMedicalMarijuana(Legislature)

Minnesota Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law; Patients and Advocates to Hold Event at Governor’s Residence to Highlight How the Bill Will Not Help Tens of Thousands of Seriously Ill Minnesotans

Group will deliver 33 flowers to Gov. Dayton at 11 a.m. on Friday; each flower will represent 1,000 Minnesotans — based on state officials’ estimates — who will still not be allowed to access medical marijuana because the governor blocked more effective, widely supported legislation

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Thursday signed a bill into law officially making Minnesota the 22nd state in the nation to allow people with debilitating conditions to access medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Patient advocates celebrated the passage of SF 2470, which will protect some patients from arrest, prosecution, and discrimination, as well as license two cultivators of medical marijuana and eight distribution centers across the state.

However, advocates voiced concerns that the law prohibits smoking medical marijuana as well as the use and possession of the dried, whole-plant flowers, which is the method and form most widely and effectively used.

A group of patients and advocates will hold a news conference outside of Gov. Dayton’s residence at 11 a.m. CT on Friday. They will deliver 33 flowers to the governor, each of which represents 1000 seriously ill Minnesotans who will still not be able to access medical marijuana under the law.

The bill signed into law on Thursday empowers "health care practitioners" to authorize patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, seizures, and other medical conditions to access medicinal cannabis. But the law limits use of medical marijuana to oil that has been extracted from the plant using a state-licensed manufacturing process.

Approximately 5,000 Minnesotans will qualify for the new program, according to a legislative analysis of the House bill on which it is based. Gov. Dayton blocked a widely supported and more effective version of the law — which would have allowed 38,000 seriously ill Minnesotans to access medical marijuana, according to a legislative analysis of a widely supported Senate bill.

The governor promised to veto any bill, such as the Senate bill, that did not have the support of law enforcement associations. Law enforcement was neutral on the final bill, which included several restrictions upon which Gov. Dayton insisted.

Under the new law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Even qualified patients under the new program who are caught with herbal marijuana can be jailed for up to 90 days, fined $1,000 and terminated from the program.

Nevertheless, patients who strongly prefer consuming cannabis flowers or who cannot tolerate the extracted oils approved under the law, have indicated that they will continue to violate the law in order to consume medical marijuana in the form that best meets their healthcare needs.

The final version of the legislation will unfortunately not allow individuals suffering from intractable pain, nausea, wasting, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to access medical marijuana.

Advocates are vowing to further expand the program, which sets up a patient registry to monitor the health impacts of marijuana and a task force to evaluate those impacts. The law requires the state to start supplying patients with medical marijuana oil by July 1, 2015.

“Many seriously ill Minnesotans and their families have been waiting a long time to reach this point,” said Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care. “The new law holds promise for many seriously ill Minnesotans, but it also leaves many behind."

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of Minnesotans suffering from truly debilitating conditions who will not be allowed to access medical marijuana under the new law,” Azzi said. “The legislature must come back next session ready to expand upon this bill so that all Minnesotans who could benefit from medical marijuana are able to access it.”

"Minnesota should be commended today for trying to meet the needs of their medical marijuana patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "However, because of the law's serious inadequacies, tomorrow we must roll up our sleeves and begin the process of expanding the law to more effectively meet the real needs of patients."

"We're looking forward to the day when policymakers boast that their state medical marijuana program will help patients the most rather than trying to adopt the most restrictive law in the country," Sherer said.

WHAT: News conference and delivery of 33 flowers to Gov. Dayton, each of which will represent 1000 seriously ill Minnesotans who will not be allowed to access medical marijuana under the bill he signed into law Thursday

WHEN: Friday, May 30, 11 a.m. CT

WHERE: In front of the Minnesota Governor’s Residence, 1006 Summit Ave., St. Paul

WHO: Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care
Medical marijuana patients, their family members, and supporters

Graphic: MedicalJane