States turn to Minnesota as model for new marijuana bills


Lawmakers in other states are now turning to Minnesota's new cannabis law as a model for their own legislation, despite the law's restrictions on eligibility and usage.

Over the past few weeks, legislators in both Pennsylvania and Georgia have turned to the Minnesota law, which passed in May, as a starting point for bills in their own states. But while the Minnesota law makes medical marijuana legal, it's limiting, offering only certain kinds of cannabis for certain patients. See also: Mark Dayton signs medical marijuana bill

Minnesota's law makes it legal for people with specific conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma, to use marijuana for medical purposes. That amounts to 5,000 people in the state. However, it isn't legal for those patients to use "loose-leaf" methods such as smoking. Instead, the cannabis will be restricted to other ways of delivery, like pills, liquids, or vapor.

In late June, a Pennsylvania Senate committee passed the "Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act," a bill nearly as conservative as Minnesota's. The legislation would limit the cannabis to oils, edibles, ointments, and vaporization, and would also limit the sale of marijuana to specific, licensed state dispensaries. As for who'd be eligible, the bill wouldn't be as limiting as Minnesota's, as it expands medical marijuana to patients who have diseases like post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

"By prohibiting the use of medical cannabis I believe we are denying our most vulnerable citizens an improved quality of health, and therefore life." said Pennsylvania state Sen. Mike Folmer, the co-author of the bill, in a statement on his website.

The legislation still has a long way to go, though, as it needs to get passed by both the House and Senate. And the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett "is expected to veto any marijuana legalization bill that is broader than his proposal for a pilot study of the use of cannabis oil to treat children with epilepsy."

In Georgia, state Rep. Allen Peake has already vowed to introduce a similar bill during next year's legislative session, which starts in January. Peake's plan isn't as fully formed as the Pennsylvania one, but in an interview with the Macon Telegraph, the lawmaker says the goal is to have a highly regulated market in Georgia similar to the Minnesota plan.

While Minnesota's law is serving as a springboard for other states, it hasn't exactly been fully embraced by marijuana advocates. Marcus Harcus, the associate director of MN NORML, said in an email that the restrictions on Minnesota's marijuana law shouldn't make it a basis for any other laws.

"It is ridiculous to see that other states, including New York, are using Minnesota's MMJ program as a model because there is no scientific evidence to base the decision to continue prohibiting the smoking of dried cannabis flowers in their natural, minimally processed form," Harcus writes. "...Tens of thousands of Minnesotans who could benefit from legally smoking cannabis continue to be restricted from safely accessing it in the form the majority would prefer to consume it, i.e. smoking."

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.