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Minnesota's Medical Marijuana Industry Launches New Pot Labs

The idea is to put pot in the pocket of every Minnesotan who is in pain. If all goes according to plan, the nation's 22nd state to legalize medical marijuana will start distributing cannabis pills and liquids to thousands of patients by mid-summer.

On Monday the state Department of Health charged two labs located in Cottage Grove and Otsego with producing Minnesota's entire supply of medical marijuana products. LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions are responsible for opening four distribution centers each by July 1. For a hookup, individuals need only a doctor's recommendation to register with the state's medical marijuana program.

It's an exciting time for local medical weed refugees, Minnesotan families who formerly had to travel out of state in search of humanitarian cannabis treatments. It's also a good sign -- let's face it -- for the unapologetic 420 libertarians looking to get high, but the win this round is chiefly for the cancer survivors, the AIDS patients, and the kids suffering from constant seizures.

Jessica Hauser, a spokeswoman for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care, says her 2-year-old son Wyatt has tried several medications for refractory epilepsy, which causes him to average 200 seizures a day. When the family traveled to Oregon last summer to try out pot, they found it provided Wyatt relief where pharmaceuticals failed. By day six of Wyatt's cannabis trial, Hauser says she recorded 70 percent fewer seizures.

"I firmly believe it helps him, but now that we're back in Minnesota he's not on them anymore," Hauser said. "We're back to experimenting with what we can get in pharmacies, but once the [medical marijuana] program is up and running he will be participating in it."

Advocates have mostly been gushing about the state health department's urgent implementation of the medical marijuana program ever since it was codified in May. But they also point out the current law has some unnecessary shortcomings.

For one, Minnesota's regulations on medical marijuana seem to draw some rather arbitrary conclusions about how much pain is painful enough to warrant a prescription. Chronic pain and nausea aren't treatable under the current law, so people looking for something to take the edge off conditions like cyclic vomiting syndrome will have to keep moving along for the time being.

Bob Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project says another weakness is that patients won't be able to buy marijuana in plant form, only processed extracts in spite of the fact that most research on the drug's effects were conducted on whole plant cannabis. Patients also absorb certain properties in cannabis differently in pill form versus inhalation by smoking or vaping.

Capecchi says although gains in medical marijuana are a part of overall growing acceptance of weed, it's too early in the program to tell whether Minnesota will join the ranks of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in full legalization.

"People across the state will start realizing they know someone who is a medical marijuana patient for instance, or maybe lives a couple miles away from a medical cannabis facility," he said. "When they see these friends and acquaintances who use medical marijuana, they'll see it's not this terrible drug, and that may get people thinking about the overarching adult prohibition on use and possession."