There will be no baggies of pot awaiting patients this week when Minnesota joins 21 other states in offering medical marijuana, nor any glass pipes or plants to tend at home. Instead, the nation's latest medical-marijuana program is a world of pill bottles and vials of marijuana-infused oil. Minnesota's medical marijuana advocates snatched an unlikely victory from the Legislature last year, but there was little celebration. What emerged to assuage law enforcement lobbyists and a wary governor was one of the strictest programs in the nation. Smoking the plant is forbidden, and pills, oils, and vapors are available only to patients suffering from severe conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV, and AIDS.
The medicine can only be sold in eight locations, hundreds of miles away from some in Minnesota's rural expanses. The two companies growing, cultivating, and selling marijuana for the state say Minnesota stands out for its medical approach to a nearly 20-year-old industry that uses terms like "budtender." Advocates say they hope to expand the program, but lawmakers and doctors will first have to be shown that it works. "Ideology does not change overnight. It's important to start somewhere," says the co-founder of medical marijuana manufacturer LeafLine Labs. (In Nevada, lawmakers want to make medical marijuana available to pets.)