Pubdate: Mon, 15 Dec 2014
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2014 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


Minnesota's eight medical marijuana centers won't be conveniently 
located for many outside the Twin Cities.

Minnesota has 87 counties, but you'll only be able to buy medical 
marijuana in eight of them. With half the state's proposed clinics 
clustered around the Twin Cities, gaps in the cannabis coverage map 
will leave some families hours away from the nearest clinic.

Four marijuana distribution sites will open within 20 miles of the 
Twin Cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eagan and Maple Grove. Four more 
will open outstate: St. Cloud, Hibbing, Moorhead and Rochester. The 
first clinics will open by July, when patients with serious, chronic 
or terminal illnesses can begin lining up to buy cannabis products legally.

None of them will open anywhere near the southwestern corner of 
Minnesota. Jeremy Pauling, of Montevideo, is facing a two-hour drive 
to St. Cloud to access the cannabis oil he hopes might bring some 
relief to his 7-year-old daughter, Katelyn, who's battling a 
debilitating seizure disorder.

"You forgot a quarter of the Minnesota's new medical cannabis law has 
this list of approved conditions: Cancer (if accompanied by severe or 
chronic pain), glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Tourette's syndrome, ALS, 
seizures/epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms/multiple 
sclerosis, Crohn's disease or a terminal illness with a life 
expectancy of under 1 year. state of Minnesota," Pauling, who sits on 
the state's medical cannabis task force, told lawmakers and 
policymakers last week. Not that that will stop him. "Two hours for 
me to drive for my daughter - I'll do it," he said.

He worries, however, about frail patients who live even farther away 
from the planned clinics than he does. Luverne, in southwest 
Minnesota, is 200 miles from the nearest clinic. So is Roseau, to the 
north. It's a 3 1/2 hour drive from Grand Marais to the clinic in 
Hibbing. Patients in the Twin Cities, meanwhile, will have their choice.

"We're very fortunate to live in the Twin Cities," said Angela Garin, 
who plans to enroll her son Paxton in the program.

Paxton, who turns 6 next month, suffers from a brain abnormality that 
can trigger hundreds of seizures a day. When he enrolled in an 
experimental cannabis therapy in Oregon, the oil - low in the 
chemical THC that gives marijuana its buzz, but rich in other 
compounds like cannabidiol - cut the seizures by 88 percent in a 
matter of weeks.

"He was able to walk better, he was feeding himself," Garin said. 
Now, she's waiting and worrying about whether the state's two new 
marijuana manufacturers will be able to reproduce the dosage that 
worked so well for her son in Oregon and whether her family, which is 
expecting a new baby this spring, will be able to afford the 
estimated $500 cost for the monthly prescription that insurance won't 
cover. Using political maps

Eight clinics was a compromise number hammered out between lawmakers 
and law enforcement officials earlier this year. The state Senate 
favored a plan that would have allowed dozens of dispensaries around 
the state. The House countered with a bill that would have allowed just two.

Two companies, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions, were 
selected earlier this month to grow and refine the state's entire 
medical marijuana crop and distribute it through those eight clinics.

Lawmakers wanted the clinic locations to be geographically balanced 
and sited where patients needed them most. That created a challenge 
for the Health Department, which had to approve clinic locations in 
December - half a year before the first patients will enroll in the program.

"We have no idea where the patients are," said Assistant Health 
Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala, who is spearheading the state's 
implementation of its medical cannabis program. "If you can tell me 
where the patients are, I'll tell you where the distribution centers 
should be. But we don't know where they are. We also don't know what 
the demand will be."

The Health Department gave manufacturers the broad guidelines to site 
a clinic in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts. But 
district boundaries mirror the population - either clustered near the 
Twin Cities or far-flung across the state. The Seventh Congressional 
District, home to the planned clinic in Moorhead, runs almost the 
entire western length of the state. The Eighth District sprawls from 
the Arrowhead to the Iron Range to the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.

"We just said, 'Look, let's just start with the premise that there is 
no good way to easily divide up the state in a way that's cognizant 
of population and patient needs, because we don't know the latter,'" 
Munson-Regala said. "So we let the manufacturers do their own due 
diligence and think through where they want to be located, and we 
used the congressional districts to surrogate for population distributions."

'Rolling it out slowly'

Minnesota passed one of the most tightly regulated and restrictive 
medical marijuana bills in the country. Not only does the state limit 
where patients can buy the drug, but it will only allow its sale in 
pills or liquids, and only to patients with certain medical conditions.

"We want to make sure we're doing it right, so we're rolling it out 
slowly," said state Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, who pushed medical 
marijuana legalization through the state House.

Some of her constituents were happy to learn the Eighth District's 
cannabis distribution center would be in Hibbing, she said. But 
Melin, who commutes three hours to St. Paul when the Legislature is 
in session, empathizes with patients who won't have a dispensary nearby.

State law will allow patients to designate a caregiver to pick up a 
30-day supply of cannabis for them. And the Health Department is 
looking into the possibility of setting up mobile cannabis clinics 
that could travel to far-flung corners of the state like a 
highsecurity bloodmobile. Melin said she hopes the Legislature will 
take a look at increasing or rearranging the distribution sites in the future.

"I don't think relief can come fast enough for a lot of these 
families," she said. "I think a lot of people are anxious for these 
dispensaries to get up and running."

That includes officials in Hibbing, who are eager for the jobs and 
traffic the new clinic could draw to town. The city met with 
representatives of both LeafLine and Minnesota Medical about setting 
up shop in town, said Hibbing City Administrator Tom Dicklich.

"We thought it was a good fit for us. It's going to draw people into 
our town," he said. "We're not as big as Duluth, but we draw from a 
large area, and people coming from west of here might not want to 
drive all the way down to Duluth."

The dispensary will open by July 2016 at the latest, he said.

The gaps in the marijuana coverage map may not always be there, 
Munson-Regala said.

"Just because this is the way things are now, don't assume that 
that's the way things are always going to be," he said. But, "when 
you're making some pretty dramatic changes to culture, slow is not a bad thing."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom