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Gov. Walz Expected To Sign Bill Expanding Medical Cannabis Program

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. (WCCO) -- At Green Goods dispensary in Bloomington, patients in Minnesota's medical cannabis program can buy oils, capsules and topical products.  But what's not offered: the dried cannabis flower and the ability to smoke it.

That's poised to change, though, in early 2022, when a bill approved with bipartisan support by the state legislature on the final day of the 2021 session Monday would take effect. Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign the measure into law.

"It will make this more economically viable and more accessible to families," said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who was the lead in the Senate on the health and human services omnibus bill that included the changes.

The proposal marks the most significant update to the state's medical cannabis program since it first became legal in 2014. Minnesotans with Crohn's disease, certain cancers, HIV, seizures and intractable pain are eligible to participate.

Benson and supporters say it's an effort to bring down the costs for the more than 34,000 people who are active in the program.

Minnesotans in the program spent on average $316 per month in 2019, according to the most recent data tracked by the Minnesota Department of Health. Products can range from $30 to nearly $200.

Marijuana Plant Flower
(credit: CBS)

"If this doesn't become economically feasible for families and economically viable for the people who produce medical cannabis, then the program goes away and those families are left to buy black market marijuana," Benson said, who is firmly against legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, an emergency medicine doctor whose cannabis company operates Green Goods in Minnesota and in other states, said the bill brings Minnesota in line with other parts of the country where medical use is legal. Allowing the purchase of the cannabis flower allows more health benefits, too, Kingsley added. He said that it would cut costs by half, the top issue for patients.

"For those with a viable system in place, Minnesota was the only state that didn't allow flower," Kingsley said. "This puts us behind the likes of West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and so it was time for us to catch up."

Last week, the Minnesota House approved a separate bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana for Minnesotans 21 or older and expunge low-level cannabis convictions. But the proposal has no chance in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka rejects it.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who authored that bill, echoed the calls to at least change Minnesota's medical cannabis program, noting that it is among the most restrictive in the nation.

"I think that there is a very strong chance that we can get flower in the medical program this year," Winkler said last week ahead of the recreational use vote. "And I think that we are doing it because we are putting this bill front and center and showing that there is an appetite at the state capitol to move forward on these bills."

Minnesotans with certain qualifying conditions can participate in the program if certified by a health care provider.

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