Medical marijuana study moves to full House

Efforts laid out in HF1818 to legalize medical marijuana fell by the wayside in the House earlier in session because of concerns from law enforcement and the governor. But Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing), the bill’s sponsor, is now pushing legislation that would at least fund an observational study on the therapeutic effects on patients.

The medical marijuana study bill is a compromise that seeks to balance the needs of patients and law enforcement groups, she said.

“Unfortunately, this has been a tremendous balancing act between the interests of public safety and law enforcement’s concerns and patient access … Right now law enforcement is neutral on the bill, which I believe is a necessity in order to get something passed into law this session,” Melin said Tuesday during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the bill, SF2470. The bill was amended and moved to the House floor. There is no Senate companion.

A provision that would require only one medical marijuana manufacturer in the state raised concerns among representatives.

Having one medical manufacturer would likely mean higher prices for consumers, said Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights). “Economics 101: if you have a single source and no competition that drives prices up.”

“My concern is the ability to reach these folks that are in outstate Minnesota,” said Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings). “At the same point, I think this could put some competition in the market ....” He unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have allowed up to six medical marijuana manufacturers or distributors.

Melin noted her agreement with the need for more distribution points across the state. “My original bill allowed for 55 locations, so for me to go to six would obviously be something I would be open to.”

There appeared to be committee support for the McNamara amendment. It initially passed on a voice vote and then failed 11-17 on a call for division.

The Senate companion, SF1641, of Melin’s earlier bill reached the Senate floor Tuesday while hers had only one hearing — in the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee.

As part of the study, SF2470, would establish a patient registry program; guidelines for health practitioners who want to participate in the study; and clarification on how the department would carry out some of the required tasks.

The study could cost the General Fund nearly $2.9 million in fiscal year 2015, according to a Revenue Department fiscal note. A large portion of the funds would go to the Department of Health to implement the study and oversee the medical marijuana manufacturer while $24,000 would pay costs related to the task force created under the bill.

The medical marijuana study

To participate in the study, a patient would need to have a qualifying medical condition, such as glaucoma, cancer, seizures or AIDS. Forms of medical marijuana permitted under the bill would consist of a pill, liquid and vaporization of liquid or oil. The Health Department would retain the authority to add additional forms of medical marijuana, except for smoking, for use in the study and to add medical conditions that would qualify an individual for study participation.

Melin said she wants the department to have flexibility as research progresses on the conditions that respond well to medical marijuana and technology advances to accommodate new forms of the medication.

The department would also be responsible for a patient registry program that would include the process by which individuals would apply to participate in the study. Participants would pay an annual cost of $200 or $50 if they are receiving some types of aid, such as Social Security or Medical Assistance. As part of the application process, health practitioners would need to provide written certification that patients have a qualifying medical condition and certify if patients are unable to self-administer medical marijuana. A caregiver 21 years old or older could register to administer the medication to one patient in the program.

Under the bill, the department would conduct research and provide recommendations on the dosage and chemical forms of medical marijuana best used in medical treatments. Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said although the department would do as required in the bill, he would be uncomfortable providing such recommendations.

“There’s not enough information about cannabis and its effective dosage, its drug interactions that I could make a recommendation on the dosage,” he said. He added, “The decision is really made by the patient in consultation with his or her provider and the pharmacist.”

The patient registry program would also provide a way for the department to analyze study data in terms of patient demographics, outcomes, treatments and other factors. Through the registry, health practitioners who participate in the program would securely report health information.

Ehlinger said the department would try to conduct an observational study “without doing the clinical trials to try to get some data from this program that will allow us to enhance the program or make changes in the program.”

Other bill provisions include:

  • protection against discrimination in housing, employment and other areas due to participation in the study;
  • protection from liability for health practitioners and state employees involved in implementing the study;
  • protection against criminal and civil action for registered patients possessing medical marijuana while permitting such action for use in prohibited areas;
  • guidelines the department would need to follow before registering a manufacturer; and
  • creation of a task force that would analyze research and the impact of medical marijuana and report to the Legislature.

    Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.

    Andrea Parrott's picture
    Andrea Parrott

    Andrea Parrott is a freelance writer from the 'burbs. (Twitter: @andrea_parrott)