Major change to Minnesota medical cannabis law approved

Cannabis plant
A marijuana is grown at LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn. The lab is one of two Minnesota facilities producing medicinal marijuana. The Legislature passed a bill Monday that will allow patients who use medical cannabis in Minnesota to smoke the plant.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2015

Updated: May 19, 9:45 a.m. | Posted May 18, 2:30 p.m.

It turns out the 2021 legislative session was good for marijuana after all. Sure, a bill for full legalization made it only through the House and was never taken up in the Senate. But with little fanfare on the last day of the session Minnesota lawmakers voted to expand the state’s medical cannabis program to allow patients to smoke the dried plant.

Minnesota has had a medical cannabis law on the books since 2014. But it's one of the nation’s most restrictive because it only allows for the delivery of cannabis in liquid, oil and pill forms. If Gov. Tim Walz signs the bill as expected, the law will soon allow for the combustion of dried raw cannabis.

“This is by far the most important change since we originally got this law passed,” said Patrick McClellan, a medical cannabis activist and patient from Bloomington. He uses cannabis to treat a rare form of muscular dystrophy, but the cost of liquid cannabis has been a barrier, McClellan said.

Patrick McClellan
Patrick McClellan of Bloomington has pushed for legal medical marijuana in Minnesota since 2012.
Peter Cox | MPR News

“What we ended up with is basically a designer drug for the rich. This was only for people that could afford it,” he said. “Most people like me, who are on disability, were forced then to purchase some from the manufacturers and then products that have been smuggled in from other states that we purchase on the street.”

Another patient, Maren Schroeder of Stewartville, said she has paid up to $250 a month for medical cannabis. Schroeder is also looking forward to a smokable option.

“It will help me have a legal route to get it in plant form, and that means safety,” Schroeder said. “That means everything I’m consuming has been lab tested and isn’t contaminated with mold or mildew or pesticide or herbicide or anything like that. So, I’m really excited about it.” 

The addition of the use of the raw cannabis plant is expected to bring down the cost for patients in the state program and make the product more accessible. 

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the chair of the Senate health and human services committee, stressed that the change is just about helping patients.

“It is not our goal to make this a path to legalization,” she said during a Senate debate Monday. “It’s a goal to make this available to people with a medical need who cannot afford it. So, we hope we’ve reached the right balance.” 

The new medical cannabis law takes effect by March 1, 2022, or once a procedure is in place for the testing of dried raw cannabis from the state's existing manufacturers.

DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, who sponsored the full-legalization effort, praised the medical cannabis change.

“By allowing flower, which is a much cheaper product to produce, the cost will come down maybe to a third of what they are now,” Winkler said. “So, it should be substantially cheaper for patients to access medical cannabis as a result of the bill that we passed, and it’s a significant accomplishment in the movement, not only towards legalization, but for patients to be able to access cannabis for health reasons.” 

Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, spoke against the medical cannabis provision in the House, saying the move was dishonest and went through the backdoor. 

“What often happens in the Legislature is we’re very good at saying ‘look at our right hand, look at our right hand, look at our right hand,’ when something happens in our left hand,” Miller said.

Conditions eligible to be treated with medical cannabis in Minnesota

  • Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting

  • Glaucoma

  • HIV/AIDS

  • Tourette Syndrome

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

  • Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy

  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis

  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease

  • Terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less than one year — only if your illness or its treatment produces one or more of the following: severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or Cachexia or severe wasting

  • Intractable pain

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Autism

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Chronic pain

  • Sickle cell disease (effective August 2021)

  • Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder (effective August 2021)

Find more information on the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.

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