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Minn. Legislature approves medical marijuana bill: Governor says he will sign bill

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Minn. Legislature approves medical marijuana bill: Governor says he will sign bill
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

By Christopher Snowbeck

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota is on the cusp of joining more than 20 states in legalizing medical marijuana.

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The state Senate voted 46-16 on Friday for a bill that would provide cannabis in the form of liquids and pills to terminally ill patients and those with eight serious medical conditions.

The House followed suit Friday evening with a 89-40 vote.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton, who said Thursday he would sign the bill.

“This is about getting something into the hands of people who have no other available options that are any good at all — people who are suffering,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsored a medical cannabis bill passed this session by the Senate.

The legislation asks the state Health Department to select and regulate two in-state marijuana manufacturers that would each operate four distribution centers spread across the state.

Patients would not be able to smoke marijuana or use plant materials in vaporizers, although vaporization of liquids would be permitted. Doctors would have to certify that a patient has a qualifying medical condition.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. The issue has been pushed to the forefront in Minnesota this year by families seeking access to the drug for children with severe seizure disorders.

Children take marijuana in the form of a liquid or oil that would be allowed by the bill. Families say the treatment is superior to traditional pharmaceuticals that they say offer little relief and significant side effects.

Similar concerns have prompted lawmakers in seven states this year to allow limited access to a form of medical marijuana that’s thought to help with seizure disorders.

While legislators approved the bill with overwhelming numbers, some raised concerns Friday about the potential for unintended consequences with legalized medical cannabis.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said she feared legalizing medical cannabis would lead to more problems with marijuana abuse and addiction. Ruud predicted: “It will change the face of Minnesota, people, don’t think it won’t.”

Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, said patients lack information about adverse interactions between medical cannabis and other medications they might be taking.

“I feel like we’re making decisions here based on emotional feelings instead of science, and I don’t think that’s a responsible governing measure,” Lohmer said.

Dibble, however, argued that the bill includes measures to prevent improper diversion of marijuana, and follows the example of states that have created programs and avoided problems.

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said the bill responds to the needs of patients who aren’t getting help from treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Melin sponsored the original House bill for medical cannabis, and said Friday that lawmakers were compelled to act on the issue by stories from patient families.

“The reason this bill is becoming law is not because of us — it’s because of them,” Melin said. “They told their stories and they fought for their kids or for their loved ones.”

Marijuana would be dispensed by a pharmacist employed by the manufacturer who would counsel patients on options. Pharmacists would consult guidance from the state Health Commissioner about forms and dosages that are best suited to conditions.

Earlier this month, the House and Senate passed different bills for medical marijuana, with the Senate bill allowing more patients access to cannabis in more forms. The bill voted on Friday was the result of negotiations in a conference committee involving House and Senate members, with input from Dayton.

About 5,000 to 7,000 patients are expected to obtain medical cannabis each month — a smaller number than the more than 35,000 who might have participated under the Senate’s bill.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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