Pubdate: Wed, 06 May 2015
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2015 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


In an Otsego greenhouse, Minnesota's first medical cannabis crop is in bloom.

Young marijuana plants, fuzzy and pungent, stretched toward the 
skylights as Dr. Kyle Kingsley threaded between the plant beds, 
leading state media on a tour of the Minnesota Medical Solutions 
facility that will supply half of Minnesota's legal medical marijuana.

"You'll see this place is pretty Spartan," Kingsley said, walking 
past bare white walls, concrete floors, and banks of monitors 
scanning the secure facility and its perimeter. There's a faint 
skunky smell in the air that hits visitors as soon as they reach the 
first of the three locked doors that lead into the building. "We put 
our focus on science and medicine," Kingsley continued, walking among 
rows of seedlings and plants. More than 4,000 plants and dozens of 
cannabis strains fill the greenhouses and spill out into the atriums.

The company, which found out in December it would be one of the 
state's two suppliers, is making plans to expand this summer. "Our 
focus is on suffering patients and getting patients medicine on July 1."

Minnesota is just months away from medical marijuana legalization. 
Between now and July 1, these plants will be culled, dried and 
distilled into enough pills and liquids to serve an unknown number of 
patients with a limited number of severe medical conditions.

The doctors, pharmacists, chemists, horticulturalists and security 
staff here at Minnesota Medical Solutions say they'll be ready when 
the company opens its first dispensary July 1 in Minneapolis, with 
its other three retail locations to follow over the next two months.

LeafLine Labs, which will be producing the other half of the state's 
cannabis crop, plans to open its first dispensary in Eagan on July 1 as well.

Dr. Andrew Bachman, an emergency room physician and co-founder of 
LeafLine Labs, said his company will be ready as well.

"It's always challenging to be a pioneer. If trailblazing were easy, 
everyone would do it," he said. "We're thrilled by the prospect of 
the smile on someone's face when they get the medicine they need."

LeafLine hasn't opened its facilities to tours yet, but Bachman, who 
grew up playing in the greenhouses of his family's garden stores, 
said he has had a "visceral response" to the little marijuana plants 
growing in his company's facility in Cottage Grove - plants he said 
society has been taught to view as bad or dangerous.

"The day I first saw our [plants] in our facility, it made me sad and 
somewhat angry," Bachman said. "I looked at a beautiful little plant 
. It smells like tomatoes, it grows like a plant, it just happens to 
have a lot of mysteries and secrets in it that we deserve - and 
patients are ready - to unlock." State's different approach

Next to the plant rooms at MinnMed, chemist Conor Smith scans the 
peaks and valleys on a chromatograph in his laboratory. One peak 
charts the amount of THC in the cannabis sample - the psychoactive 
compound that gives marijuana its buzz - and another measures the 
therapeutic cannabidiol compounds in the sample.

This particular 50-50 blend might go to a cancer patient fighting 
nausea from chemotherapy.

On a table in the next room, a rainbow of bottles shows off Minnesota 
Medical Solution's product lines - pills, vaporizers, vials and 
droppers for oils, each color coded green, blue, yellow, purple, 
according to potency.

Minnesota is taking a uniquely clinical approach to medical 
marijuana. Instead of sending patients home with a baggie of the 
drug, cannabis will be sold only in refined pill or liquid form. The 
system - not popular with some patients who might prefer more 
traditional and cheaper forms of the drug - does allow the company to 
control the quality and potency of the drug and to track how 
effective doses are for patients.

"It's really interesting. Other states aren't doing this," said 
Smith, who earned his doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the 
University of Minnesota. Kingsley said the company has been deluged 
with applications from scientists and clinicians interested in 
getting in on the ground floor of the fledgling industry. "I like 
doing research and right now we're turning research into products. 
It's a very interesting process to try to optimize the research from 
the plants."

Kingsley began building this facility months before he knew whether 
the state would select his company as one of its two designated 
medical cannabis manufacturers. He took the risk, he said, to ensure 
he'd be ready for the summer start, ready for the patients he saw in 
his practice who were battling agonizing diseases like pancreatic 
cancer, and hoping this new drug might offer relief.

Thousands of patients and their families are taking more than a 
clinical interest in this crop. Kim Kelsey and Kathy Engstrom, who 
both have sons suffering from serious seizure disorders, joined the 
tour of the Minnesota Medical Solutions facility.

They don't know if their boys will benefit from medical cannabis, but 
they're eager to try after their long years of fighting to get the 
bill passed in the Legislature.

"We have hope," said Kelsey, whose 23-year-old son has suffered from 
life-threatening seizures since he was 4 years old. "It's given us 
the first hope that we've had in a really, really, really, really long time."

There are many stories of children and adults with seizure disorders 
who have benefited from cannabis oil. Even if the treatment doesn't 
help her son, Kelsey said the state's research into the drug's 
effectiveness might help others.

"Yes, we want a miracle. Who doesn't if you have a sick child?" she 
said. "But if it helps a little or it doesn't, at least we can give 
the state the research ... and feedback and maybe it'll help somebody 
else. It's not all about us. It's about everybody." 'Won't be like 
Black Friday'

There's no way of knowing how many patients will sign up for the 
state program. Registration begins in June and the health 
department's best guess is around 5,000, although that number could 
jump if the state expands the program next year to include patients 
suffering from intractable pain. Assistant Health Commissioner Manny 
Munson-Regala, who is overseeing the cannabis rollout, isn't 
expecting to see long lines outside dispensaries, like other states 

"It won't be like Black Friday at Best Buy," he said.

Minnesota had less than a year to put its medical marijuana program 
together, and plenty of people were skeptical that it would be up and 
running in time, Munson-Regala said. "I feel like we've done the best 
we could do to ensure that the folks who need medication get it, and 
abuse is minimized."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom