MINNESOTA: Often considered one of the more liberal states in the Midwest, Minnesota is fragmented — a sea of blue centered around the Minneapolis/Saint Paul metro area surrounded by red rural areas. In terms of cannabis law, Minnesota is a bit ahead of other Midwest states but not by much. Adult recreational cannabis use remains illegal, but being caught with less than an ounce and a half will only result in a small, traffic-ticket like fine.
Medical marijuana was approved for a small list of ailments in 2014, and Minnesota’s program is considered one of the most restrictive in the country. MMJ Patients cannot smoke actual cannabis flower, but instead must vaporize oils or take capsules. Qualifying conditions include cancer, HIV/AIDS, seizure disorders, MS, glaucoma, ALS, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and other terminal illness. Intractable pain and PTSD were approved as qualifying conditions in 2016; pain patients were able to join the medical marijuana program in August of that year, while PTSD patients will be able to join starting August 1st of 2017.
So what’s on deck for cannabis in Minnesota in 2017? For activists, it appears that raising awareness of drug policy issues and the right for patients to access medical cannabis are on the top of the list.
“Minnesota has a strong history of cannabis activism, but our activists are spread out among many different groups and organizations with different means to reach the same end goal,” explained Gunnar Aas, president of the Hamline University chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) in Saint Paul. “We’re devoting the majority of our efforts as a chapter towards continuing to build a coalition of activists, politicians, volunteers, and concerned citizens beyond campus to create the legislative changes necessary to bring sensible drug policies to our state.”
Aas added that the Hamline chapter is planning a trip to Portland, Oregon over spring break to attend the 2017 Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference. “We’re excited to take the skills we develop in Oregon back home, where we can share what we learned with our peers and allies in an effort build the world we dream of.”
No new cannabis legislation is expected in 2017, and until the 2018 election brings a new chief executive to replace Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, who opposes cannabis reform, little more is expected to happen legislatively.
“We will spend most of this year training and preparing supporters for the 2018 elections, so we are organized and ready to address the question of who we would like to see elected governor,” stated Michael Ford, director of the Minnesota chapter of NORML. “The governor has been our biggest roadblock these past few years in reforming marijuana laws here in Minnesota.”
Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) introduced a bill to disallow the program head (currently Ed Ehlinger, the commissioner of health) to add qualifying conditions. Dean was vehemently opposed to legalizing medical marijuana when legislation passed, believing it’s a “slippery slope.”
Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of MinnMed (one of two approved producers of medical cannabis programs), is not concerned about potential back-peddling on marijuana issues – either at the state or federal level.
“We’re really excited about what’s to come in 2017,” he explained. “Price reductions have lead to a dramatic increase in patient volume in our dispensaries, and the addition of chronic pain and PTSD was a real shot in the arm.”
Kingsley added that topicals were recently approved for medical marijuana patients, which will bring much-needed relief to those who cannot vaporizer or have issues swallowing capsules. He believes that a pragmatic approach to reform will ensure the best results.
“This is no longer a bipartisan issue. I am calling on all pragmatic members of Congress to take a look at this and find some solutions. 1 in 3 people have chronic pain of some type – it would be great to come up with practical ways for patients to gain access to this medicine.”