Minnesota Becomes 22nd Medical Marijuana State, But The Only One That Won’t Let You Smoke

Nicole Flatow, ThinkProgress

Minnesota became the 22nd state in addition to the District of Columbia with a medical marijuana bill Thursday, with the signature of Gov. Mark Dayton (D). The new law will allow the distribution and consumption of marijuana for medical purposes, with one major caveat: You can’t smoke it, and you can’t possess the plant in its natural form.

The compromise measure lost the support of many medical marijuana advocates, who say consumption of the plant is the most natural and effective method for managing particular conditions. The law will allow the plant to be distributed only in oil, vapor, or pill forms, after the oil is extracted from the plant through state-licensed manufacturers. While the oil has been particularly value for children suffering from seizures, marijuana is most frequently consumed in its leaf form, particularly because patients can control dosing by taking one puff at a time until they feel relief. Those who utilize this marijuana oil cannot control its potency, and many have reported feeling “zombie-like” after consuming it.

Many who already use marijuana to treat their symptoms say they don’t want to risk signing up for the new medical marijuana program, because it makes them even more susceptible to prosecution for being found with marijuana in plant form. Typically, possession of small amounts of marijuana in Minnesota is a misdemeanor carrying no jail time and a $200 fine. But participants in the medical program are reportedly subject to their own particular penalties for making “false statements” about having the drug in plant form: they can be jailed for 90 days, fined $1,000 and expelled from the program. They face a much higher felony charge for submitting false records as part of the program.

“If I were to get into this program, and I get the oil and it’s way too powerful and then I decide to go back to leaf, I could be prosecuted,” Patrick McClellan told the Star Tribune. McClellan currently buys the plant illegally and vaporizes it to treat his muscular dystrophy.

He said he was worried he would get “stoned out of my mind,” adding, “Patients don’t want to be high. We just want to treat our symptoms.”

Minnesota appears to be the only state that has specifically ruled out smoking and possession of the plant. But state medical marijuana laws vary in a number of ways. Some allow for medical marijuana consumption, but make no explicit provision for dispensaries, which then operate on fuzzy legal footing. Some allow patients to grow their own marijuana, with a limit on the number of plants. Others like Minnesota limit the number of dispensaries, and the sorts of conditions.

The Star-Tribune notes that Minnesota’s law is particularly restrictive in these other areas too. While Minnesota will allow 8 dispensaries across the state, Illinois authorized 60 and Nevada 66.

Advocates say that this bill will help an estimated 5,000 patients in Minnesota, while an earlier more expansive version would have helped some 38,000. And some plan to protest the bill at Gov. Dayton’s office Friday. But Americans for Safe Access, a national medical marijuana organization, hesitantly embraced the bill, dubbing it a first step on the path to a more comprehensive medical marijuana program as lawmakers increasingly embrace medical marijuana as a moderate political position.

“We’re looking forward to the day when policymakers boast that their state medical marijuana program will help patients the most rather than trying to adopt the most restrictive law in the country,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer.

The signing comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is poised to vote on an amendment that would exempt states with medical marijuana laws from federal prosecution.