Known for its “10,000 lakes,” The Twin Cities, and The Mall of America, Minnesota may be adding medical marijuana to its list of attractions, but at a daunting cost for some.
Last Friday, state officials and the Minnesota Department of Health hosted a conference for prospective applicants in downtown St. Paul to discuss logistics of Minnesota’s new medical marijuana program. More than 250 entrepreneurs attended the forum where they learned that the state only intends to register two manufacturers to cultivate marijuana for incredibly ill patients. Only four dispensaries will operate in the state. To make the stakes higher, the application fee is $20,000 and nonrefundable.
The state plans to enforce strict regulations for the two manufacturers to follow to in ensure the product’s quality and safety. Provisional draft rules were issued Aug. 4 to oversee prospective manufacturers’ applications. Growers will be required to install complex surveillance equipment at their facilities and appoint a laboratory to test the medicine. The rules could require these two producers to inform the health commissioner before every single shipment to a distribution center.
These measures to enforce safety can be costly. Start-up capital required for facilities to grow and transform marijuana into medicine can run around $10 million, according to Eric Reichwald, an attendee at Friday’s meeting and staunch supporter of the medical marijuana law — that estimate does not include the $20,000 application fee.
The rigid rules and high cost that Minnesota’s new law will impose were said to cause apprehension among businesses vying for the two manufacturer spots.
Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala acknowledged the risky nature of competing to be a medical cannabis producer.
“You’re dealing with a cash crop, folks. People are going to want to get at it,” Munson-Regala said, according to The Associated Press.
It is important to note that many of the proposed regulations are to ensure the safety of the patients.
The medicine will only be available in pill or liquid form, as the state’s medical marijuana law forbids smoking of the drug, similar to the policy its neighboring state, Wisconsin. Unlike other state medical cannabis programs, the Minnesota law does not permit patients who qualify to obtain or possess whole-plant cannabis.
Which Patients Qualify?
Patients who are afflicted with one of eight conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, Tourette’s syndrome, glaucoma or epilepsy qualify for the medicine. The marijuana could also be available to patients with terminal illnesses and a life expectancy of less than one year. The Legislature opted out of providing marijuana to patients with intractable pain — a move that could stifle the market.
How Can Patients Obtain It?
Besides being diagnosed with one of the eight conditions, patients must pay The Patient Registry Fee which could be $200 for annual enrollment or a reduced fee of $50 for Minnesotans receiving Social Security disability or who are enrolled in MinnesotaCare. Patients must obtain a physician’s recommendation, and must be registered with the State Department of Health.
When is the Medicine Available?
The new Office of Medical Cannabis plans to register two manufacturers, each of whom would supply four distribution centers across the North Star State by December. They hope to make medical cannabis available to patients starting July 1, 2015. Applications will open in September.
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