Minnesota lawmakers on Thursday announced a medical marijuana compromise that’s supported by Gov. Mark Dayton and could be passed by the House and Senate on Friday.
The agreement would let patients with any of eight medical conditions obtain marijuana in liquid and pill form from eight distribution centers across the state.
Patients would not be able to smoke marijuana, nor would they be allowed to use plant materials in vaporizers.
“People in Minnesota who are suffering today, who have no good options — or no options at all — can have the hope of gaining some relief,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “People have been asking us to do this for many, many years.
Katelyn Pauling, 7, of Montevideo was on hand for announcement of the bipartisan compromise bill legalizing certain forms of medical marijuana. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
The agreement includes a narrower list of medical conditions contained in a bill passed last week by the House. But it allows for two manufacturers, where the House bill allowed for one.
The Senate version of the bill would have created a broader network of growers and 55 dispensaries — a number that Dayton signaled this week that he would not support.
“I look forward to signing this bill into law,” Dayton said in a statement.
“I think that this is a really exciting day for a lot of people,” said Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing.
Noting the broad bipartisan support that medical marijuana bills received last week during votes in the House and the Senate, Melin said: “It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is … we have all heard from people in our districts who will benefit from this legislation.”
Families and patients have spent many hours at the Capitol this spring pushing for legislation. Some of the most powerful testimony came from parents of children suffering from severe seizure disorders that have few conventional treatment options but reportedly can be relieved with medical marijuana.
“This means the world to our family, this is going to change my daughter’s life and thousands of lives across Minnesota,” said Angie Weaver of Hibbing.
Parents of children who would benefit from medical marijuana stand at the back of the news conference. They are, from left, Jessica Hauser, Kathy Engstrom, Angela Garin and Kim Kelsey. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
“My daughter is going to be able to stay in Minnesota … and have quality of life.”
But the agreement won’t help as many patients as the Senate bill would have. It excludes patients with the diagnosis of intractable pain, unless they have severe or chronic pain resulting from cancer or terminal illness.
By not allowing patients to smoke marijuana, the agreement doesn’t permit marijuana use that works for some.
“It seems like a step in the right direction, but it leaves a whole lot of people behind who’ve been fighting just as hard for this,” said Jessica Hauser, 36, of Woodbury, whose son Wyatt suffers from a serious seizure disorder. “I’m hopeful that it will work for Wyatt.”
The Minnesota Medical Association took a neutral stand on the compromise but said it takes a step toward the needed well-controlled studies of medical marijuana.
State Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who testified against Dibble’s bill earlier in the session, said he supported the compromise.
“It allows those who are suffering with serious illnesses the opportunity to incorporate medical cannabis into their treatment plan,” Ehlinger said.
“This bill allows us to collect some information so we learn more about the benefits of medical cannabis — when it’s best used and at what dosages.”
During a conference committee hearing Thursday evening, Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, questioned the economic viability of the program. The Minnesota Department of Health estimates that about 5,000 patients per year would obtain medical marijuana.
The conference committee approved the bill on a 5-1 vote, with Petersen voting against it.
Patients who want to use medical marijuana would have to be certified by a doctor, physician assistant or advanced practice nurse.
After receiving a patient’s application, the Minnesota Department of Health would enroll the patient in the registry program that would track the benefits of the marijuana use.
Patients would pay a fee to help cover program costs. As part of participating in the program, patients would agree to continue treatment for their condition with their health care provider and agree to report on their health status.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL- Minneapolis, and Rep. Carly Melin, DFL- Hibbing, left at podium, explain their compromise bill legalizing certain forms of medical marijuana during a news conference at the state Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
Manufacturers would be expected to supply medical marijuana products to patients by July 1, 2015. They would be required to contract with a laboratory to test the quality and consistency of the products.
The state would spend a projected $2.9 million to implement the medical marijuana program during the 12-month period ending June 2015. During the next two years, the state would be expected to spend an additional $2 million.
Among other things, funding would cover the costs for the equivalent of 9.5 full-time employees, who would regulate the manufacturers and their distribution centers.
Cassie Traun, 24, of St. Paul said she’s disappointed by the compromise.
Traun uses marijuana plant materials as well as liquids in a vaporizer for Crohn’s disease, so the compromise would legalize one use but not the other. The Senate bill was superior to the final agreement, Traun said, because it was based on a dispensary model that works in 21 other states.
Joni Whiting, 58, of Jordan said she was concerned about the cost of marijuana in liquid and pill forms compared with plant materials. Her adult daughter smoked marijuana in the final months of her life to cope with melanoma, and Whiting said she would have been reluctant to let her daughter vaporize liquids.
“It’s a beginning, but we’re not done yet,” Whiting said. “I’ll be back.”
Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at 651-228-5479. Follow him at twitter.com/chrissnowbeck.
AT A GLANCE
— The deal allows patients to take or vaporize medical marijuana in the form of liquids or pills. It does not let patients smoke marijuana or vaporize plant materials.
— Patients would pay a $200 annual fee; the fee would be reduced to $50 for low-income residents.
— Anyone who intentionally transfers medical marijuana to someone other than a registered patient could be fined $3,000 and face jail time.
— A task force will evaluate the state’s program and conduct a broader assessment of medical marijuana research.
— The House and Senate are expected to vote on the compromise legislation Friday. Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign it.
A doctor or health care provider can certify a patient for medical marijuana if they have a qualifying condition such as:
— Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting;
— Tourette’s Syndrome;
— Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis;
— Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy;
— Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis;
— Crohn’s Disease;
— Terminal illness, with a life expectancy of less than one year, if the illness or treatment produces sever/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting.
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