22 Down, 28 to Go

A compromise is supposed to bring medical marijuana to Minnesota

Minnesota became the 22nd medical marijuana state in the nation recently, or at least they were supposed to by the time you read this.

As of press time, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) was vowing to sign a compromise bill between the state House of Representatives and Senate, both of which have Democratic majorities. The dueling bills—the House one very restrictive and the Senate's less so—seemingly came out of nowhere.

As recently as January, Dayton told reporters he opposed medical marijuana and wouldn't sign unless the bill's opponents in law enforcement lifted their opposition. He said he didn't see it happening during the 2014 legislative session and that he didn't even want to address it until 2015.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association opposed the Senate version of the the bill, which would have allowed smoking flower sold at 55 dispensaries statewide. The law enforcement group supported the House version, which accounted for one dispensary and banned smoked flower. The police organization believed the more liberal approach would lead to wider distribution and more cannabis in kids hands.

But I think the compromise bill, which allows eight dispensaries and bans flower, is more onerous than the Senate version, especially for kids. The bill Dayton says he'll sign allows vaporizing extracts, such as oils, but not flower. In my mind, dabs are far more of a problem than other forms of marijuana, especially flower.

High-grade marijuana, the quality dispensaries sell, is often somewhere around 20 percent THC. These extracts often approach 90 percent THC. I don't want my kids getting ahold of that. I've never vaporized wax, but I've heard a lot of stories about the über intoxication it leads to. Used right, dabs is a healthier, more effective delivery method than smoking flower. Extractions eliminate a lot of carcinogens and preserve the "entourage" effect of cannabinoids working together to ease symptoms. But it's also more abusable and arguably more dangerous for teens.

And the compromise bill's eight "distribution points" will make things difficult for patients. Some will have to drive long distances to get extracts that will be produced by just two manufacturers, which is probably going to make them expensive and lead to degrading quality. Factor in taxes, time spent to get to medication, and the cost of gas, and the system seems likely to keep cannabis patients in the black market, where they are getting marijuana now.

Qualifying illnesses include cancer (but only with pain, nausea, or wasting), HIV/AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, ALS (Lou Gerhig's disease), seizures, severe and persistent spasms, Crohn's disease, and terminal illnesses (again, with pain, nausea, or wasting).

Chronic pain, which accounts for the vast majority of marijuana patients nationwide, myself included, is not on the list. Cannabis is very effective pain reliever, so leaving pain off the list emasculates the bill. I understand that a lot of people fake chronic pain to get medical cards, but that's not my problem. I have well-documented medical problems going back decades, and I don't have medical insurance. I would be left out in the cold in Minnesota.

Ultimately, tight controls like this in state marijuana laws are counterproductive. It basically ensures a thriving black market that will continue to operate outside the gaze of law enforcement, where it is now. I would rather see states create systems more like Arizona, where patients have widespread, easy access to cannabis. Well-regulated systems like the one here counteract the demonization of medical marijuana. Laws like the one in Minnesota propagate it.

I hope and believe this law will change over time, evolving along with American culture and knowledge of cannabis science. They'll see in Minnesota, as we have here in Arizona, that cannabis isn't a demon to be suppressed. It's a powerful medical treatment that has been proven relatively harmless and highly effective in hundreds of studies by doctors around the globe.

At least Minnesota is moving in the right direction.

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