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Dayton signs medical marijuana bill

Pioneer Press Photo by Ben Garvin From left is Jessica Hauser, Kathy Engstrom, Angela Garin and Kim Kelsey, along with parents of children who would benefit from medical marijuana, listen in the back of a press conference as Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL- Minneapolis and Rep. Carly Melin, DFL- Hibbing announced a bipartisan compromise bill legalizing certain forms of medical marijuana May 15 during a press conference at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton signed the medical marijuana bill into law on Thursday, but there are mixed feelings among supporters.

Advocates are planning to gather outside the Governor’s Residence today and present him with 33 flowers, each meant to represent 1,000 people the new law does not help.

“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, which has been pushing for medical marijuana’s legalization. “The new law holds promise for many seriously ill Minnesotans, but it also leaves many behind.”

Dayton has said it was important for medical marijuana proponents to reach a compromise that law enforcement officials would not opposed.

“I thank everyone who worked together to craft and pass this legislation,” the governor said Thursday in a statement. “I pray it will bring to the victims of ravaging illnesses the relief they are hoping for.”

Though Dayton signed the bill Thursday, that doesn’t mean patients can rush out and legally obtain the drug.

First, the Minnesota Department of Health must create a new structure for regulating two manufacturers that will be allowed to grow marijuana in the state.

That will involve hiring about 10 workers for a new Office of Medical Cannabis, which will operate a patient registry to track whether patients are helped by the treatment. If all goes according to plans, certain patients who are terminally ill or suffer from one of eight qualifying medical conditions could obtain marijuana beginning July 1, 2015.

“This is going to be a medical approach,” said Manny Munson-Regala, an assistant commissioner at the state Health Department. “It’s about titrated dosages, it’s about predictable composition of products, gathering information — that’s unique to us.”

The law lets patients obtain marijuana in liquid or pill form. They aren’t allowed to smoke marijuana, or use plant materials in vaporizers. Patients can vaporize marijuana in liquid form.

About 5,000 people per year are projected to use the Minnesota program — a smaller number than the roughly 38,000 people who would have had access under a broader bill that passed in the Senate this spring. The broader bill provided access to patients with intractable pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are not included among qualifying health conditions.

Relatively tight restrictions in Minnesota on the distribution network and the list of qualifying conditions were adopted in response to concerns from law enforcement groups and some physicians.

But Sen. Branden Petersen, a Republican from Andover who co-sponsored the Senate bill, said the final compromise is too narrow.

“We serve 5,000 people, and, of course, we’re all happy for those people,” said Petersen, who voted against the final bill. “But this creates the idea that we accomplished something — and will serve as the reason why we don’t act to serve the other 33,000 people for years. That’s how it’s going to play out.”

Minnesota is now the 22nd state with a full medical marijuana program, according to criteria developed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington D.C.-based group.

Crafting reporting requirements is one of the challenges for Minnesota going forward, said Munson-Regala of the Health Department. The state needs data about patient outcomes to develop good information about the effectiveness of marijuana, he said, but excessive reporting requirements could prompt doctors to not participate.

Physicians must certify that patients have a qualifying condition such as cancer, glaucoma or seizures such as those characteristic of epilepsy. Some of the most compelling testimony this spring for legalization came from parents of children with rare seizure disorders who’ve seen anecdotal evidence in other states about the benefits from medical marijuana in liquid form.

The law calls on the state health commissioner to evaluate whether intractable pain patients should be added to the list of qualifying conditions in the future, Munson-Regala said. The law also allows for people to petition the Health Department for adding other conditions.

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