Three years ago, Minnesota’s endeavor into medical marijuana legalization became one of the country’s most restrictive programs. Consequently, patients who were unable to afford state-approved marijuana turned to the estimated $700 million marijuana black market.
Several years ago, Governor Mark Dayton asserted that full marijuana legalization would never be legal “on his watch.” Today, many DFL gubernatorial candidates are rallying behind the promise of legalization. In fact, five of the six current candidates prepared to challenge Dayton are card-carrying supporters, and some, like Tina Liebling (Rochester) admit that while she has used marijuana in the past, she has no interest in indulging in it anymore, and she claims the War on Drugs has been a dismal failure. Today, this criminal defense attorney extols the virtues of Colorado’s laws that regulate marijuana like alcohol. In fact, she—along with eight other democrat legislators—is introducing legislation and a constitutional amendment showing what regulation might look like and giving the people the power to decide the future of Minnesota’s marijuana market.
Other public officials like St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman have asserted that the disproportionate impact of marijuana laws on young minorities provided the impetus for examining the feasibility of legalization in the state. The current opioid crisis also lends support to marijuana legalization.
Since Colorado, Washington, and Oregon legalized marijuana, other states like Nevada, California, Maine, and Massachusetts have recently jumped on the legalization bandwagon, thus demonstrating the practicability of Minnesota joining their ranks.
Minnesota’s medical marijuana program
Legislation passed in 2014 introduced medical marijuana to seriously ill Minnesotans in order to treat certain conditions. Under the program, patients with a “qualifying condition” were/are eligible to enroll on a registry maintained by the state, and these patients were/are able to obtain marijuana from one of eight state-sanctioned dispensaries run by the Minnesota Department of Health.
For purposes of this program, qualifying conditions include:
- Cancer associated with chronic/severe pain, severe vomiting or nausea, or severe wasting
- Severe and persistent muscle spasms, commonly due to multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Tourette syndrome
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease
- Intractable pain
- Any terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than one year that produces severe/chronic pain, severe wasting, or severe nausea and vomiting
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (added in 2016)
Even though the state’s medical cannabis program continues to improve, significant limitations remain. Among these is failing to permit the sale and use of whole plant marijuana. Instead, current law only allows extracts and other compounds which tend to be more expensive and which many believe do not work as well.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is also making strides in petitioning legislatures to make the law more inclusive for those with Alzheimer’s, autism, and other types of nausea.
Efforts continue to improve Minnesota’s medical cannabis program; however, because the state doesn’t use ballot initiatives, concerned citizens must contact their representatives to address the issue.
Until cultivation and sales are regulated, the black market will persist, and this poses potential health concerns for consumers in terms of product quality and pesticide usage. Further, according to MPP, by not legalizing cannabis, the state is depriving itself of decent jobs and much-needed tax revenue.