Medical marijuana could soon be law in Minnesota, much sooner than even ardent proponents had thought realistic until recently.

The two houses of the Minnesota Legislature have hammered out compromise legislation that would allow a unique form of MMJ in the North Star State. The program would answer concerns of law enforcement and medical groups while ensuring that some of the sickest patients have access to medicine.

minnesota state flag

Leaders from the Minnesota House and Senate announced May 15 that a conference committee containing members from both chambers had reached a deal on MMJ legislation. The compromise bill will now go to both houses for a final vote.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who opposed efforts to enact more broad-based medical marijuana laws, said he would sign the bill. That would make Minnesota the 22nd state in the country to enact a version of full medical pot. Six other states have passed laws legalizing a non-intoxicating form of the drug that helps only certain epileptic patients.

Minnesota briefly considered going in that direction after Dayton initially refused to back any more expansive form of medical weed. But his delay tactics led parents of children with severe seizure disorders to oppose that plan.

Instead, the House and Senate passed separate bills in May adopting MMJ. The Senate version was much more liberal than the House program, which called for a restrictive research trial that almost certainly would have failed to win necessary federal approval in the first place.

The compromise bill, like the Senate version, would allow patients with certain severe conditions – AIDS and cancer, for example – to use cannabis to treat their illness. That means they could use the intoxicating form of the drug, which contains the chemical THC.

But they wouldn’t be allowed to smoke it, or even to get their hands on marijuana in its plant form. Instead, they would have to use a concentrate vaporizer, consume liquid cannabis, or take pills – the efficacy of which have long been called into question.

The law would have some strange consequences. It would encourage vaporizing, which is generally viewed as a healthier alternative to toking, but typically a costly one. Quality vaporizers can run hundreds of dollars, and cheap models can be unreliable.

green marijuana leafThe law also would establish a legal market for marijuana concentrates, something other states have been trying to ban. These concentrates are used in vaporizers, but recreational consumers can also use them to generate a potent, long-lasting high.

Under the bill, Minnesota would create eight MMJ distribution sites, one in each of the state’s congressional districts. Patients would need to get a certification from a doctor, physician’s assistant, or advanced practice nurse. The drug would be made at two sites under the oversight of the Department of Health.

Backers of the bill touted it as the most stringent in the nation, though other states have clamored for that title as well. The state’s largest medical group backed off its opposition to the legislation, while the lobbying group for Minnesota prosecutors agreed to back it after fighting the Senate version.

Not everyone was celebrating the compromise. The original legislation in the Senate would have covered a wider swath of conditions, such as PTSD, that were cut out of the final agreement.

“It’s hard to celebrate when people we’ve become really close to as a result of lobbying for this bill are being left out by this compromise,” said Angela Garin, whose 5-year-old son suffers from a severe seizure disorder.

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