The Minnesota House of Representatives voted to approve a study that would make medical marijuana available in limited form to a very small number of patients – in theory.
But the program would require the approval of multiple federal agencies, meaning the vote is essentially irrelevant. Unless lawmakers go back to the table and adopt legislation similar to that passed by the state Senate recently, MMJ won’t happen in Minnesota anytime soon.
What started as a hopeful movement toward medical pot in the state has devolved into a scramble to see who can prove they hate the idea most. No matter which version becomes law, Senate or House, the state is headed toward one of the most restrictive and least useful MMJ programs in the nation.
Lawmakers in the House voted 86-39 May 9 to advance their bill. The vote drew strong bipartisan support. Gov. Mark Dayton, generally a staunch opponent of medical weed, has said he would sign it if it reaches his desk in its current form.
But it’s not clear whether that will happen. The House and Senate must now hammer out a compromise bill in a conference committee, then send that back to both chambers for approval.
The House legislation would make MMJ available to just 5,000 Minnesota residents, who would register with the state health department. They would get their weed from licensed pharmacists.
Unfortunately, that isn’t legally possible, a major snag for the proposed program. Pharmacists are licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and marijuana is a schedule 1 controlled substance, classified with heroin and ecstasy. Selling it could costs pharmacists their licenses.
But Minnesota representatives either didn’t do their homework or didn’t want the program to succeed in the first place.
MMJ would be limited to patients with one of several conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and HIV/AIDS. Patients would be prohibited from smoking the drug and would be limited to consuming pills or liquid extracts.
THC pills have a long, well-documented history of poor performance. The state would let patients vaporize marijuana concentrate, but no one would be allowed to buy, possess, or use dried plant matter – the form of cannabis used by the vast majority of consumers.
The Senate bill also bans smoking, though it allows herbal vaporizers and other plant-infused products. Should either of these proposals become law, Minnesota would be the first state in the nation to allow marijuana but ban toking.
There’s no particularly strong scientific evidence to support this approach. The legislature was reacting to fierce pressure from the state’s medical and law enforcement communities, which are staunchly opposed to most marijuana reform.
Under the Senate bill, patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed. There would be 55 dispensaries across the state.
Dayton opposes the Senate version, but it passed that chamber with a veto-proof majority. Whether similar language can pass the House after conference committee is another matter.
The biggest problem facing the House legislation is that it requires a research study into the benefits of pot. Almost every study into marijuana in the United States requires the approval of at least three federal agencies: the FDA, the DEA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The first two agencies clear many studies, but the third, NIDA, has rejected almost every study ever proposed into the medical benefits of cannabis. That’s because NIDA’s mandate is to fight drug abuse, and it considers marijuana a dangerous drug. Without a green light from the agency, Minnesota’s proposed study would never move forward.