Legislature adjourns, focus shifting to 2020 elections
Last update: May 19, 2020
On May 5, 2020, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) introduced his long-awaited legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The comprehensive bill — which Winkler deemed “the best legalization bill in the country” — reflects stakeholder input, including from his "Be Heard on Cannabis" tour over the fall and winter, and from organizations including MPP.
Unfortunately, the bill didn’t advance before the legislature adjourned on May 18. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R) has said the Republican caucus is strongly opposed, and that legalization would not pass the Senate. Under Gazelka’s and Sen. Michelle Benson’s leadership, the Senate killed even a modest, House-passed proposal to allow whole plant, raw medical cannabis late Sunday night. Without this reform, the costs of medical cannabis will remain out of reach for many Minnesotans.
However, the entire legislature will be on the ballot in November, so there’s an opportunity to elect more lawmakers that recognize the folly of prohibition. Relatively few voters take an active role in state legislative races, so even a handful of advocates can have an outsized influence. We hope you’ll reach out to candidates in your area and consider volunteering for and/or donating to supporters. The best way to ensure champions are in St. Paul is to help elect them. And make sure you’re signed up for our free email alerts, so you can receive voter guides.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program makes adjustments to improve safe access in light of the coronavirus
As Minnesota residents are encouraged to stay home to slow the transmission of the novel coronavirus, medical cannabis businesses have been allowed to remain open — along with other health and medical businesses. In addition, Gov. Tim Walz (D) issued an executive order to improve patient access to medical cannabis in these extraordinary times. This includes allowing certifications by telemedicine, allowing curbside pickup, extending renewal deadlines, and allowing temporary caregivers.
While all of those are important improvements, the governor should also allow home delivery during the pandemic. Delivery allows for more social distancing and would reduce the burden on the seriously ill and their caregivers. You can call Gov. Walz at 651-201-3400, send him a note here, or contact him on Twitter.
Minnesota’s medical cannabis program expands, but remains flawed
In 2014, then-Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a medical marijuana program after insisting on modifications that made it extremely restrictive and that drive up the costs of medical cannabis.
After the first year of the program, 92% of patients reported some benefit from their treatment, and 67% reported a great deal of benefit. However, more than half of the patients who registered and made purchases within the first six months stopped purchasing medical cannabis from dispensaries by the end of 2016. In the same survey, 86% of patients reported that they found medical cannabis to be at least somewhat unaffordable, with 29% reporting prices as very prohibitive.
Local advocates, often with assistance from MPP, have petitioned the Minnesota Office of Medical Cannabis to add qualifying conditions. As a result, the program has slowly expanded. The office added intractable pain in 2015, PTSD in 2016, obstructive sleep apnea and autism in late 2017, and Alzheimer’s disease in 2018. In December 2019, the health department approved chronic pain and macular degeneration, which will be added in August 2020.
Despite these improvements, Minnesota’s program still has serious limitations, including that it is the only operational medical program that does not allow patients to access and use marijuana flowers. Instead, the state only allows extracts and other preparations, which are more costly and which many patients find do not work as well. Another issue that leads to shortages and high pricing is that there are only two businesses licensed to provide medical marijuana in the state.
In order to better serve the patients of Minnesota, the legislature and department should work together to add access to flower and to license additional businesses.