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Parents Face Long Drives For Medical Marijuana

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Jeremy Pauling is staring down four hours round trip to the nearest site that would sell medical marijuana for treating his daughter's chronic seizures. Others in greater Minnesota could face an even longer drive, and that needs to change, the Montevideo man said Wednesday.

"Two hours for me to drive for my daughter — I'll do it," Pauling said during a meeting of the task force that's overseeing the rollout of the state's new medical cannabis program. "I'm concerned about the cancer patient in ... the southwestern part of the state that cannot. You forgot a quarter of the state of Minnesota."

The state announced Monday that it had selected two Twin Cities-area companies to grow and distribute marijuana for the program. Minnesota Medical Solutions, or MinnMed, and LeafLine Labs tentatively plan to open dispensaries in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eagan, Maple Grove, St. Cloud, Hibbing, Rochester and Moorhead. Those locations put hundreds of miles between some greater Minnesota residents and medication for themselves or their children.

Pauling and other task force members offered suggestions to better spread the eight distribution sites across Minnesota, from allowing deliveries to letting parents take home a bigger cache of the medicine to simply adding more dispensaries. Nearly all those changes would require revising the law passed just last session.

Pauling also said the state should abandon its idea to place one dispensary in each Congressional district, pointing out that four are located within a 15-mile radius of the Twin Cities. The site nearest to his home is in St. Cloud.

State officials and representatives from the two manufacturers told the task force that their sites aren't finalized and promised to keep working to find the best locations.

Peter Bachman, president of LeafLine, said there were many constraints when it came to picking their distribution sites. Both companies needed each city to sign off on bringing their business to town and ensure each site didn't run afoul of buffer zones around schools and other buildings.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is the state's own legislation, widely regarded as one of the most restrictive laws in the country. The law says the state can have no more than eight dispensaries.

That bill was "not a product of paramount concern of patient access serving or patients in general. It was sort of a political solution," said Sen. Branden Petersen, an Andover Republican and task force member. "Patients would be better served by more locations."

Maria Botker also faces nearly four hours round trip from her home in tiny Clinton, in western-central Minnesota, to Moorhead, about two hours north. As plans currently stand, that's the closest site where she could buy medical marijuana to treat her daughter Greta's severe form of epilepsy.

Botker said she's happy to make the trip come July 1 when the program launches.

"Would I love to have it just across the road from me? Absolutely," said Botker, a fellow task force member.

But she said the state needs to keep working to make sure all Minnesota families can easily access the new medication.

"We have a long way to go. I'm realistic enough to know that perfect isn't right around the corner," she said.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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