Minnesota

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Cannabis Legalization in Minnesota

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Medical cannabis has been legal in in Minnesota for several years, but recreational cannabis remains illegal. However, possession of small quantities of cannabis was decriminalized more than four decades ago.

Despite the fact that the possession and consumption of small quantities of cannabis was decriminalized as far back as 1976, recreational cannabis is still illegal in Minnesota. In addition, Minnesota is acknowledged having perhaps the single most restrictive medical cannabis policy in the whole of the United States.  Accessing medical cannabis has a tendency to the surprisingly difficult, while heavy restrictions are placed on consumption methods for qualifying patients.  Realistically, the likelihood of Minnesota giving the green light to recreational cannabis anytime soon is low to say the least.

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What’s the Legality of Medical Cannabis in Minnesota?

Medical cannabis was legalized in Minnesota in 2014 when Governor Mark Dayton brought new legislation into effect. At the time, it was stated that legal cannabis would be prescribed exclusively for nine specific medical conditions, which were cancer, severe epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Tourette's syndrome, ALS and Crohn's Disease. Applications for medical cannabis authorization opened as of July 2015, though the system had already been widely criticized for considering such a limited number of qualifying medical conditions.

Even today, the system remains remarkably restrictive and difficult to gain access to. In order to qualify as a medical cannabis patient in Minnesota, the applicant must have been diagnosed with Cancer (with pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or wasting), Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), a seizure disorder, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's Disease, or a painful terminal illness with less than a year to live. Intractable pain and post-traumatic stress disorder were added to the list of qualifying conditions in 2016 and 2017 summarily, somewhat broadening the scope qualification among patients.

So, it’s Legal to Smoke Medical Cannabis in Minnesota?

If you have a qualifying medical condition and receive the recommendation of an authorized physician, you may be accepted for the state’s medical cannabis program.  However, medical cannabis in Minnesota is only available in the form of pills, liquids, and products for vaporization. Cannabis flowers and smokable products, in general, remain illegal at all levels – even for medical cannabis patients.

Irrespective of your preferred method of consumption, there is no allowance for smoking medical cannabis in Minnesota. A rule that has attracted criticism from some corners, though has been applauded by many public health groups who argue that combustion and inhalation is the least ‘healthy’ approach to the consumption of medical cannabis.

How do You Become Eligible to Use Medical Marijuana in Minnesota?

Eligibility for medical cannabis in Minnesota is determined at two levels. Patients must first make an appointment with an authorized physician, in order to receive a formal diagnosis. However, the doctor’s involvement begins and ends with formally diagnosing one of the qualifying conditions outlined above. After this, the patient is required to register their application online and await the final decision. Nevertheless, acceptance isn’t necessarily guaranteed upon receiving a formal diagnosis.

Where Can I Buy Medical Cannabis in Minnesota?

The medical cannabis policy introduced in Minnesota outlined plans to open a series of eight state-controlled distribution centers. Far from simple dispensaries in the traditional sense, each of these distribution centers would have its own contingency of pharmacists and experts, who would help patients determine the required dosage and preferred cannabis products. Once again, it will not be down to the patients’ doctors themselves to ‘prescribe’ specific cannabis strains or dosages – this will take place at the distribution centers.

What if I Don’t Have One of the Specified Qualifying Conditions?

Even if you do suffer from one of the conditions listed in the state’s medical cannabis policy, it can be tricky to qualify. Hence, attempting to gain access to medical cannabis with a condition that doesn’t appear on the list is even more difficult. While it’s technically possible for physicians to provide medical cannabis recommendations or file appeals on behalf of their patients, it rarely leads to a successful outcome. The legal medical cannabis framework in Minnesota remains so restricted that applicants who don’t ‘tick’ all the necessary boxes are more or less counted out of the running. It’s still worth applying and pleading your case, but you could be in for a rough ride and a drawn-out process.

Where Does the Medical Cannabis Come From?

Unsurprisingly, Minnesota is also extremely restrictive with regard to the origins of its medical cannabis. As it stands, there are just two producers fuelling the entire industry - Minnesota Medical Solutions in Otsego and LeafLine Labs in Cottage Grove. Or to put it another way, the likelihood of being granted a license to produce and process medical cannabis in Minnesota is currently zero. Two approved independent laboratories have been appointed to test of the quality and purity of the state’s medical cannabis.

How Much Does Medical Cannabis Cost in Minnesota?

With all these complications, you’d expect medical cannabis in Minnesota to pack a relatively high price. And you’d be correct – average monthly costs for moderate quantities of medical cannabis come out at around $400 to $500. There’s also an annual fee of $200 for those who are successfully accepted to the medical cannabis registry, which is discounted for low-income patients. Unfortunately, none of these costs are covered or even subsidized by any existing health insurance policy.

Why Such Complications in Minnesota?

It’s hard to say, but some have suggested that lawmakers in Minnesota may be concerned with the legality of cannabis at a Federal level. Federal law still prohibits the sale, purchase, consumption, possession and cultivation of all forms of cannabis – medical or otherwise. It’s been suggested that the Fed could at any time crackdown on the cannabis industry across the United States, though it remains highly unlikely that this will ever happen.

In any case, a Federal crackdown could lead to every pharmacist, producer, and supplier of cannabis facing criminal prosecution. As a result, some states and jurisdictions are more hesitant than others to embrace new-generation cannabis policy.

Can Medical Cannabis Patients Grow Their Own?

No – there is no allowance whatsoever for growing your own cannabis at home under any circumstances. This can be particularly problematic for patients who don’t live within easy reach of one of the state’s few licensed dispensaries. It’s also prohibited for cannabis to be delivered by courier or post. Registered caregivers may purchase and transport cannabis on behalf of their patients, otherwise it’s down to the authorized medical cannabis user to travel to the nearest dispensary.

What About Hospital Patients?

This is another example of just how complex and convoluted current medical cannabis legislation in Minnesota is. A short while ago, a change in state law allowed hospitals to provide patients with medical cannabis for the first time.  However, it remains illegal and impossible to this day for hospitals to obtain medical cannabis for their patients. It can only be brought in by the patients themselves or their families – the latter only being possible upon receiving authorization. Legislation is making it difficult for patients across Minnesota to gain access to the medical cannabis they need.

How Is Illegal Cannabis Use Punished?

In stark contrast to all of the above, Minnesota actually has quite relaxed legislation in place with regard to cannabis-related penalties. Particularly compared to some North American states, where possession of small quantities of cannabis could land you in jail.

For example, possession of no more than 42.5g of cannabis as a first offense will see you facing no more than a $200 penalty and a civil citation. No criminal record and no chance of jail time. Remarkably, the same also applies to possession with the intent to supply – 42.5g or less and it’s the same $200 misdemeanor.

However, cross the line in either instance with more than 42.5g on your person and you can expect them to throw the book at you. For this level of possession or possession with intent to supply, you could be looking at a $10,000 fine and up to five years behind bars. Nevertheless, the state’s relaxed attitude towards possession and consumption of modest amounts of cannabis remains borderline bizarre.

Will Minnesota Legalize Recreational Cannabis?

For the time being, not a chance. Despite having been officially enacted several years ago, the state’s medical cannabis policy remains at something of an embryonic level. Unnecessarily strict and difficult to access, huge strides need to be made on the medical side of things, before recreational cannabis can even be considered. Even then, it is unlikely to garner a great deal of support from the state’s somewhat conservative policymakers.