NEW YORK (MainStreet) Minnesota may not top the list of the country's most nimble or cutting edge marijuana markets, but new developments in the state almost guarantee that the maturation of the vertical here will be closely watched nationally, at least in the short term. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton signed the new state medical cannabis law the last week of May.
Even though the signature signals a victory for medical marijuana expansion into a new state, Minnesota's bill is already garnering threats of a patient boycott. Just 5,000 prospective patients appear to qualify for the program. Business interests are also concerned about the small manufacturing capacity, if not the limited distribution currently envisioned by this legislation.
Much of this discontent appears to stem from the highly restrictive aspects of the bill and continuing delays on actual implementation. State lawmakers have yet to come up with a timeline to even issue dispensary licenses.
Minnesota's market is shaping up to be a tightly regulated one, starting with patient access. A traditional doctor, nurse or nurse's aide must write prescriptions for patients with a tightly defined list of ten chronic or terminal ailments including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDs, MS and epilepsy.
The state's initial green light to the industry only includes the establishment of eight dispensaries across Minnesota which will be supplied at least initially by only two state approved manufacturing facilities. Like other states such as Washington, employees of businesses in the vertical will be subjected to a background check.
Cannabis oil which is the primary if not only legal form of cannabis in the state, will only be available from a licensed distributor. Patients will also not be able to buy cannabis or smoke it. This is far more onerous in Minnesota, because unlike states in the West, users are also prohibited from cultivating their own medication.
According to Kris Hermes, spokeswoman for Americans for Safe Access, a national patients' advocacy organization, this legislation will inevitably begin to define the nascent market as well as services and products to deliver the drug.
"Bongs would be illegal under Minnesota's new law, since bongs require their users to smoke the substance being consumed," she said. "Vaporizers, on the other hand, would be legal if the user is consuming cannabis oil and not the dried flower or other remnants of the whole-plant."
Minnesota, therefore, is proceeding uniquely, as the first "smokeless" state allowing cannabinoid use for adult patients but limiting their access solely to in-state manufactured forms of cannabinoids.
Though how this will shape the state market and influence national developments is still unclear, it stands without question that edibles will be be a major part of this market: with Ma href="http://www.mainstreet.com/article/lifestyle/cannabis-cup-highlights-show-future-marijuana-industry" data-add-tracking="true" target="blank"> edibles making up as much as 50% of sales in other states, legislative action in Minnesota, while creating one of the most tightly controlled state markets in the country, could potentially also open new doors for creativity in the fastest growing segments of the vertical.
Such developments will also clearly be watched in other states like Colorado and Washington, which are facing their own state-wide issues regarding regulatory oversight of packaging and THC content. It may also shape legislative conversations across the South where cannabinoid oils and tinctures, albeit without high THC content, are the only parts of the plant legislatures appear ready to touch for approval of medical use.
Despite a contentious ride through the state legislature this year in Minnesota, however, there are clearly communities now lining up to compete for the new business. The city of Montevideo is already angling for a bid for one of the two state-wide manufacturing sites with strong support from the city council, which is already proposing "shovel ready" sites. The production facilities will be privately owned but strictly state-regulated.
"It's too soon to tell whether the city will be one of the two sites for the manufacture of cannabis oil," Hermes said. "The proposal comes from a private party, not the city itself."
Overall, while there are still many critics of the highly restrictive legislation, patients' rights advocates like Hermes believe that this is just the first iteration of a state regulated program that will inevitably expand.
"Patients are being forced to demand greater protection," Hermes said. "Since most patients choose, for a very good reason, to consume whole-plant marijuana, the majority will be excluded from this law."
Limitations and strict regulations aside, Minnesota becomes the twenty-second state to legalize marijuana for any purpose.
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet