Minnesota lawmakers reached an agreement today on legislation to legalize the limited use of some forms of medical marijuana by next summer, a deal that Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign into law.
Minnesota is now poised to become the 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana. But the compromise legislation would create the strictest law of the bunch.
Under the agreement, the state will authorize two medical cannabis manufacturers to set up operations in Minnesota and distribute the product in pill or liquid form to qualified patients at up to eight distribution centers by July 1, 2015.
Smoking of marijuana is not allowed. State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said patients would be allowed to vaporize "whole plant extracts" but not dried leaves.
"Some of these forms, particularly when we're talking about whole plant, we have a number of compounds that work together in what's the entourage effect," he said. "We wanted to preserve that for folks for whom that is an important form of cannabis to relieve their symptoms."
Although the agreement falls short of the kind of legislation advocates for medical marijuana wanted, Dibble said it's important to pass a bill this year and make some progress after years of trying.
"People in Minnesota who are suffering today and have no good options or no options at all can have the hope of gaining some relief," he said.
The bill calls for a state patient registry and an observational study of the effect cannabis in treating a limited list of qualified conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette Syndrome, Crohn's Disease, ALS and seizures.
State Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, said many parents of children suffering from those conditions were influential throughout the process of finding an agreement.
"We've gotten to know them and their families and their names, and we've gotten to know what conditions they need addressed," Melin said.
"They've have really been here to advocate for themselves, for their loved ones, for their friends, in order for them to gain safe legal access to medical cannabis. I'm thrilled we were able to accomplish that."
One of those parents lives in Melin's legislative district. Angie Weaver of Hibbing said access to medical cannabis will be life changing for her daughter Amelia.
"This is so important to us and our family," Weaver said. "My daughter is going to be able to stay in Minnesota, grow up with her cousins and have quality of life. I cannot express my appreciation enough."
Another parent, Jeremy Pauling of Montevideo, Minnesota, said the state's legalization of medical cannabis means he doesn't have to move to another state to help his daughter Katelyn.
"It's taken every part of me not to cry right now, because we've gotten somewhere," Pauling said. "It's been a long road. But now I can get my daughter the medicine she needs."
Most patients will pay an annual fee of $200. The estimated cost of launching the compromise program was not made available.
Dayton issued a statement praising the agreement, as well as the parents who lobbied for it this session. He said he looks forward to signing the bill once it arrives on his desk.
The House and Senate are expected to pass the conference report on Friday. Dayton's health commissioner, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, said he was pleased the compromise provides a safe and effective way to help patients in need.
"This bill allows us to collect some information, so that we learn more about the benefits of medical cannabis, when it's best used and what doses can be used," Ehlinger said.
Law enforcement groups that opposed earlier proposals, are taking a neutral position on the new compromise. The Minnesota Medical Association also took a neutral stand.
Heather Azzi, a spokeswoman for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care -- a group that has lobbied for medical marijuana -- said the compromise is a big step forward but will still leave a lot of people behind. In part that's because the bill applies only to some people who need medical marijuana and because it doesn't allow for the use of marijuana plants, Azzi said.