The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 16, 2014

Starting Minnesota medical-pot program not easy

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — It took years, many false starts and a veto of prior legislation, but Minnesota medical marijuana advocates finally succeeded in getting a bill that's on track to become law in a matter of days.

The state Legislature approved it Friday night in separate House and Senate votes that drew Democratic and Republican backing.

Now comes the hard part: setting up a system to administer the drug by July 1, 2015.

"The timeline is very aggressive," said Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, whose agency will oversee the program. "This has high visibility. It's controversial. And both sides will be watching."

Other trouble spots could be provisions that might keep some doctors and patients from participating, or make it difficult for companies interested in making or dispensing the drug to make enough money to join the program.

For all that, Ehlinger praised the agreement reached Thursday by House and Senate negotiators. A pediatrician and internal-medicine specialist, Ehlinger likes the requirement that doctors collect data on how the treatments work and submit then to the state Health Department.

"We're going to get some data that no one else has," Ehlinger said. "Other states are reeling because they don't have data. Some people might criticize our program as the most restrictive in the country. But the approach is reasoned to get us where we want to go more safely, and perhaps, more quickly."

Minnesota's legislation makes it the only state to explicitly ban smoking the drug. It also prohibits patient access to plant material. Instead, the drug would be available in oil, pill and vapor form.

Eight medical conditions would qualify for treatment, including cancer, glaucoma and AIDS, with a possible ninth if the health commissioner acts on a House amendment requesting that "intractable pain" be considered. The terminally ill also could qualify.

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