Patrick McClellan stood outside a brightly lit building in downtown Minneapolis just before midnight, waiting to get medical cannabis — something he'd lobbied for in Minnesota since 2012.
"It was an incredibly hard fight to get to this point, and to actually see it here is amazing," he said. "It's an incredible feeling."
The 48-year-old was among three customers who marked the legalization of medical marijuana at Minnesota Medical Solutions, a dispensary that opened its doors to the public as early as the law allowed: Just after midnight in the early hours of July 1.
McClellan drove in to the city from Bloomington. He has a rare form of muscular dystrophy that can cause severe and violent muscle spasms.
"I got a preloaded vaporizer pen," he said. "I use it in some replacement of some emergency medications that I wear around my neck, which are far more dangerous than cannabis. One of the medications I take, the FDA says, could kill me taking [it] the way I take it. So, cannabis is a far safer option. And now we have safe, legal access to this medicine, which is what we asked for."
Minnesota is now among 23 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana in some form. The state has a stricter medical marijuana program than most. In Minnesota, dispensaries are not selling smokeable leaves. Instead, they're offering other forms.
"We actually have seven different medications on our spectrum and we have all these different medications available right now," said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions. "From seizure patients to patients that need more THC in their medicines, we have the full spectrum available in all forms. Capsules, oils and tinctures."
Minnesota Medical Solutions' only state-licensed competitor, LeafLine Labs, says it offers four varieties of medical cannabis: capsule, syrup, oil and tincture/spray formats. LeafLine's first dispensary will open in Eagan Wednesday morning. Between the two companies, six more dispensaries are planned throughout the state.
More than a year ago, lawmakers approved a bill to allow patients diagnosed with any of nine different conditions — including epilepsy, cancer, HIV and AIDS — to purchase medical cannabis produced by Minnesota manufacturers.
The law says medical marijuana may be used to treat chronic pain, nausea and muscle spasms, and allows sales only to patients who have registered to buy and use medical cannabis. To do that, patients must be certified by a health care practitioner who, in turn, must be registered with the state.
As of last Friday, 203 health care practitioners had been registered and authorized to certify patients and 139 patients had been certified by registered practitioners. Sixty-five patients were approved to pick up medical cannabis starting Wednesday.
Michelle Larson, the director of the state's medical cannabis office, said the number of certified patients has since grown. She was pleased with Wednesday's opening.
"I thought it went really well," Larson said. "To see patients picking up cannabis on July 1 was our goal and they did it, so very happy."
Kim Kelsey, of Excelsior, picked up seven days' worth of pills for her 24-year-old son Alec. She spent $120 for a medication she hopes will relieve him of the severe seizures he's dealt with for 19 years.
After waiting for years to see the legislation pass, Kelsey says going inside and getting medical cannabis was a victory.
"Still it feels like its not even real," she said. "But then I take this and I shake it. I go, 'It's real, it's really here.' I guess the hope is that it will do something and it will help."
LeafLine Labs' dispensary is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Wednesday, though without a cannabis medication for epilepsy, as planned. In an email, LeafLine officials said the formulation didn't meet their standards, but did not specify details. Minnesota Medical Solutions is scheduled to reopen at 9 Wednesday morning.