Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jul 2014
Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)
Copyright: 2014 Post-Bulletin Company, LLC


ST. PAUL -- Dr. Marshall Brinton saw the headlines after Minnesota
passed a medical marijuana law, looked around at the equipment in his
old veterinary laboratory and thought, "Yeah, I could do that."

A retired veterinarian in Willmar, Brinton hopes to convert the lab
where he once made vaccines for animals into one of Minnesota's two
medical marijuana production facilities.

After the long slog to legalize medical marijuana, the state's real
work has begun to get the unconventional medicine in severely ill
patients' hands by this time next year. Next steps range from the
mundane, such as securing office space, to integral pieces, such as
building a computer system to register patients and track their
medication, hiring a research director to help determine dosages and
placing eight dispensaries across Minnesota.

The state has given the program a name -- the Office of Medical
Cannabis -- and hired its top official. But no step is more critical,
or perhaps more difficult, than securing two manufacturers to grow the
plants, extract the active ingredients and turn it into medicine.

After years of failed efforts, Minnesota lawmakers last session passed
one of the nation's strictest medical marijuana laws. Patients can use
only a pill, liquid or vaporized form of the drug and only those who
suffer from eight illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma,
will qualify for the program.

Several legislators and advocates raised concerns that those
restrictions would dissuade manufacturers from coming to Minnesota.
Lawmakers built a delay option into the bill, which the health
commissioner can use to kick the program's July 2015 launch back
another six months.

The state is hosting a conference for interested manufacturers on Aug.
8. Applications are scheduled to open in early September, with two
selected on Dec. 1.

"I used to worry we would have no applicants," said Manny
Munson-Regala, an assistant commissioner in the Minnesota Department
of Health and the architect of the state's new program. "I've been
contacted by enough interested parties that I'm feeling comfortable
that we'll have choices."

Brinton hasn't contacted the state yet, but he got the OK from
Willmar's Planning Commission last week to use his old laboratory to
cultivate marijuana if he's ultimately accepted by the state. He said
he plans to reach out to similar facilities in Colorado in hopes of
finding a business partner with experience.

"I'm a veterinarian. I see the aspect of the medicine. It makes
sense," he said. "When I researched the law, I said, 'This makes a lot
of sense.'"

The question of where to place eight dispensaries to ensure an
estimated 5,000 patients have equal access will be left up to the two
manufacturers, each in charge of four locations. Munson-Regala said
the state is toying with the idea of asking manufacturers to bid on
the state's even-or odd-numbered congressional districts -- one in
each, of which there are eight.

And the state still needs to fill the Office of Medical Cannabis'
10-person staff.

Last week, the health department named as director Michelle Larson, a
deputy director in the department's Office of Statewide Health
Improvement where she led efforts to tackle tobacco use, drug abuse
and obesity. Up next on the state's hiring list: a research manager,
to help determine what types of marijuana work well for patients, what
dosages to use and weed out any potential side effects with other 

A new task force to study the impact of medical marijuana in Minnesota
is scheduled to meet on Thursday. Stacked with law enforcement
officials, substance abuse professionals and soon-to-be patients, the
23 members will set the tone for how setup and oversight of
Minnesota's new program will unfold.

Sen. Branden Petersen, one of four lawmakers on the task force, said
he was disappointed with the "narrow scope" of the bill -- he and his
colleagues in the state Senate pushed for more dispensaries and more
qualifying conditions. Petersen, an Andover Republican, is concerned
that the bill's passage will discourage lawmakers from retooling the
legislation in the future if Minnesota's law proves too

"It becomes the reason why you can't take any further action. I'm
going to try to make sure that doesn't happen.
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MAP posted-by: Matt